Gulf oil disaster: It’s everybody’s Katrina
I was having a discussion with some folks on Twitter about an op-ed piece in American Thinker called Big Government’s Katrina. Conservatives who dislike the Obama administration have been calling the blowout (still not fully contained 45 days on) “Obama’s Katrina” as an attempt to pin blame on him. The author of this op-ed also utilizes this rhetoric by placing blame on Obama specifically, and then takes it a step further by putting it on “big government”:
The mess in the Gulf of Mexico is not just Obama’s Katrina. It is Big Government’s Katrina.
First of all, I suppose those who use this talking point are now admitting that response to Katrina was a human failure. That’s something. Second, the federal government’s response to this blowout disaster could have been (and still could be) much better. No doubt about it. Watching what seems to be a futile exercise in capping this thing and trying to skim this gigantic slick is incredibly frustrating.
The federal government is without a doubt part of this problem. I have no issue with that. But what this op-ed tries to argue, and very poorly in my opinion, is that industry was an innocent bystander:
What was the use of all the regulations and the permits for BP’s Deepwater Horizon? In the end, they failed. Did they fail because the regulation wasn’t rigorous enough? Did they fail because the regulators were “captured” by the oil industry? Or did they fail because the regulations diverted the thinking of BP’s engineers into drilling to the regulation instead of acting as responsible agents?
Oh brother, did you get that last bit? There were so many regulations that the engineers couldn’t focus on doing a safe job! Oh my, what a load of horse-puckey. This is what passes as a logical argument? Really?
I’m really getting tired of the notion that if these benevolent corporations could just be free — if they could only break the shackles of an oppressive and evil government, blah blah bladdity-blah — then they would operate in perfect harmony with society and nature. Doesn’t that sound nice? Where is the model of this libertarian utopia in the modern world? Maybe here?
I’m not saying corporations shouldn’t exist and shouldn’t be allowed to make money. They provide the vast majority of us with jobs and are a key component of our economy and society. I believe that competition amongst entities in the private sector does indeed drive innovation (we are seeing this happen in the green tech industry right now). I am a proponent of letting business self-organize into the “best” configuration. But many systems that self-organize are also characterized by threshold behaviors that lead to cascading failures and abrupt upheavals of the “stable” state. We see this happen again and again. I’m of the opinion that government’s role is to (1) help develop some rules that prevent, or at least minimize, major upheavals and (2) respond swiftly and effectively when they do occur. This op-ed seems to be arguing that if there were fewer and/or less strict rules then this catastrophe would not have happened in the first place. This is blind devotion to a theory that seems to only work in scholarly papers. And I have a feeling this twisted little meme is going to make the rounds in the coming weeks with all flavors of corporate apologists.
The op-ed closes by saying that “big government can’t get the job done”, referring to the response of this disaster. I agree! But neither can industry. They are both demonstrating everyday just how unprepared we are for this event. We will continue to drill in deep water offshore. No matter how much technology is developed we can NEVER guarantee a blowout won’t happen again. Whether it’s an oil company CEO, a safety regulator, or Obama himself — if someone claims drilling offshore is 100% safe they are full of it. We must assume that another blowout will occur and be prepared. If it means surrounding every drill rig at all times with a fleet of 100 support ships equipped to deal with it, then so be it. If it means that these wells cost 10, 50, or 100 times more than they already do, then so be it.
Finally, all of us keep consuming this stuff — we love it, we can’t get enough of it. While culpability for the specific event falls squarely on the failings of industry and government, we all keep buying and using oil. I’m convinced that the only way to truly break our addiction is to make it prohibitively expensive. For example, would you be okay with a 1000% tax on a gallon of gasoline (and jet fuel) that went towards funding aggressive development and implementation of other fuels?