Kent Pitman

Kent Pitman
New England, USA
Philosopher, Technologist, Writer
I've been using the net in various roles—technical, social, and political—for the last 30 years. I'm disappointed that most forums don't pay for good writing and I'm ever in search of forums that do. (I've not seen any Tippem money, that's for sure.) And I worry some that our posting here for free could one day put paid writers in Closed Salon out of work. See my personal home page for more about me.


JUNE 6, 2010 11:38AM

The Spoils of Libertarianism

Rate: 39 Flag

It's interesting how certain quotes find a new life in events that follow later, and with them, I suppose, the people that spoke them. Today was featuring a quote by the late Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which might as well have been made yesterday about the BP oil spill):

“The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.”

I've been listening to the audiobook of The Big Short recently and am about halfway through it. It explains a lot about the specific reasoning that led to the recent financial collapse. A lot of it comes down to the notion that some banks could not conceive of the notion of something really bad happening, so they operated on the notion that the insurance they were selling was free money (that is, they were selling insurance on something they'd never have to pay out for), so they priced it very badly. From the audiobook:

“Theirs was a union of the weirdly like-minded. Ben shared Charlie and Jamie’s view that people and markets tended to underestimate the probability of extreme change. But he took his thinking a step further. Charlie and Jamie were interested chiefly in the probabilities of disasters in financial markets. Ben walked around with some very tiny fraction of his mind alert to the probabilities of disasters in real life. People underestimated these too, he believed, because they didn’t want to think about them.”

A lot of what seems to drive the world these days is an addiction to money and power. There is no rational reason for any single individual to need as much money or power as they seem to have amassed, and it seems to be that what goes along with that is an increase in “betting,” even irrational betting. Digging a well or making money on the stock market seems to be almost secondary to the drive to take ever bigger risks, often at the expense of others. Maybe it's about the adrenaline rush. Maybe it's about the fame of doing something others haven't. Maybe it's just the multiple levels of detachment between the person making decisions and the person affected.

I hope you can see the connection I'm making. The BP oil spill was not inconceivable. The company just refused to conceive it. The financial problems with banks were not inconceivable. The banks just refused to conceive them.

I don't know what is required to get this under control. More regulation of businesses? Capping the size of businesses? What I do know is that less regulation and leaving companies to their own devices is not the answer. Rachel Maddow put it well recently when she said:

“At the core of the ‘I hate government’ sentiment that’s very fashionable right now is a sort of nostalgia or maybe fantasy about not having government at all, about free people, free families, untaxed, unconstrained by external authority, living according to their religious beliefs and the motivations provided to them by the free market—which, you know, when you put it that way, it sounds kind of bucolic and awesome, right?

“When you see it in action in a country that hasn’t had a government in about 18 years, it actually looks like this. This is Somalia. From which NBC’s chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, has just recently returned. ...”

The report by Richard Engel she was leading in to paints a grim picture. And yet she's right. It's scarily like the kind of world Libertarians seem to want to paint for us, not in effect but in structure. And yet it's the structure that leads to the effect.

As a source of ideas, maybe the Libertarian party still offers some interesting food for thought. Sure, all other things being equal, if we have a choice between a big government solution and a small government solution that are both guaranteed to work, why spend the extra money? But the Libertarian party goes farther than that, and here I part company with them. They paint an image in which small government is a virtue in and of itself, and independent of consequence. This has never been more clear than in this quote from Rand Paul about the oil spill:

“...maybe sometimes
accidents just happen...”

Rand Paul's words stunned me as Michael Dukakis stunned those who might have otherwise been his supporters in his response to a question about the death penalty in a 1988 Presidential debate. The level of intellectual detachment from reality was shocking.

Sometimes indeed, accidents do happen. But the BP oil spill was not one. And neither was the financial collapse. These were the results of allowing companies to do as they please without fear of the consequences. The companies should have known there would be consequences. So should we have. The system must be reformed to acknowledge that.

As noted before, I'm not making a specific proposal about what needs to happen. I'm just noting the obvious—that the problem here was not “too much government” and that no push toward “less government” is going to make this kind of thing less common. That's not the opinion of someone who's a die-hard proponent of big government, just the common sense observation of someone who understands cause and effect. I think the applicable quote for that is this:

“When the cat’s away,
   the mice will play.”

If you got value from this post, please "rate" it.

This is part one of a two-part series.
See the continuation here:
Renouncing my Status as a Republican Wannabe

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Very good essay. The libertarian "dream" is fantasy thinking. I love how they, the libertarians, want small or no government yet have no idea how the government works. Most support the military; many get social security or Medicare; they drive on roads etc. Government is bad; business is good is their simplistic thinking of the world. There answer to their Ayn Rand thinking that has ruined a world economy and has now destroyed an entire region of the country? "Greenspan didn't go far enough, is their answer." Rightwing policies in action were a total failure and the response--Go farther to the right and then it will be okay. I can only shake my head. Good essay as always Kent.
Thanks, Dr. Spudman. Glad you enjoyed it. There's another installment coming soon, perhaps tomorrow, so I hope you stop back by then.
Good analysis, Kent. I found Rand Paul's line ("...maybe sometimes accidents just happen...") unbelievably clueless as well. My take on it is similar to yours, I think.

Accidents always happen; they're inevitable. What we do is try to foresee the consequences of accidents and take steps to ensure that the results aren't catastrophic. That is, Paul's conflated two issues: whether the BP oil spill was deliberately caused (debatable, but probably not--the argument has to do with the nature of "cause", which can be hard to pin down), or whether it could have been foreseen given the regulatory situation that was deliberately set up. There's a tenuous link here to sins of commission versus sins of omission, but I won't go into that. Instead I'd say, as you do, that people could have and should have foreseen what could have happened and did happen. It's like saying, "I lost all my money at the roulette table; oh, well, I can't control chance." Yeah, but...
Great analogy, Rob. Thanks for adding to the mix.
Reality seems to be just something to consider when you're not ignoring reality.

Ah, it must be nice to slide through life with no conception of reality.
Jay, I think indeed there is a certain practicality that comes from being not too comfortable. I'm as much for comfort as the next person, but when it starts obscuring one's vision, it's time to come out of the cocoon.
Great post and rated. As time goes on Libertarianism seems more and more silly. Back in the 80's it seemed like it might be a good idea. Now it can be summarized as "Government is bad except when it isn't, which is when I benefit from it."
Bonnie, see part two of the essay, coming soon. As I mentioned to Dr. Spudman, it was long and I cut it in half. But yes, I agree.
Roger, sorry, I missed you in there and went out of order. Yes, you're somewhat echoing Bonnie's pitch against greed. I think that's a lot of it. I don't think that's the only reason people gravitate toward Libertarianism, though. It does sound good. It just doesn't work.

I think, is the cost of elitism—living so far separated from the cruelty of the world that one is able to indulge the luxury of believing that the world is no longer cruel. I heard an analyst on TV sometime in the last few weeks remarking about Rand Paul that his point about racial protections seemed to be that “Yeah, well, maybe it wouldn't have worked out the first time, but the world has grown so much that it wouldn't backslide.” That, of course, is either totally disingenuous or totally naive. (I'm betting most people I know will conclude the former, but I think the latter is a possibility no less bad.)
good take on the "small government" trope

most of the worst catastrophes of the last three decades can be fairly attributed to the deregulation rush that started in a small way during the Carter administration, took off under Reagan, was perpetuated by Bush I and Clinton, and reached its apotheosis under He Who Shall Not Be Named

but we're not strictly talking about small government, or unintrusive government here, the size of the government and its intrusiveness into individual lives exploded even as corporations were unchained

to get the full picture you have to see that deregulation was a result of the takeover of government by concentrated financial power, not by any true libertarian impulse

it's easy to see the results of government emasculation by corporate power in the ongoing financial/economic crisis and in disasters like Massey coal and the BP debacle in the gulf, what I haven't seen much comment on is the way the "national security" government/corporate alliance (what Eisenhower warned us against half a century ago as the "military-industrial complex") shapes American foreign/military policy to guarantee an ongoing massive diversion of wealth to weapons manufacturers and privatized quasi-military mercenaries, by playing on the public's fear of the enemy du jour (communists, drug lords, islamic terrorists, or permutations of all three), under Cheney/Bush (ok, I named them) and perpetuated under Obama, they've managed to create a self-sustaining permanent state of war that guarantees cost-plus profiteering while taking the extreme costs in lives and treasure, which fuel public outrage for Wall Street and Big Oil, right off the social balance sheet, we don't even notice that we're being robbed and our young are being killed to sustain their profits
Exactly Kent. Isn't it amazing how desperately we want things to right themselves? We've been sold a bill of goods when it comes to the benefits of a trickle-down economy and how much tax cuts have helped the poor (kidding, right?). People in a fantasy/nostalgic frame of mind are actually yearning for a time when large swaths of the population were under-served or ignored or deprived basic rights or necessities. I don't want the government in my house making decisions about what I do in my spare time (off the computer now; you're spending far too much time in front of that screen) but yes, I want protection--because I'm getting older, because I'm one person and because I'm at the mercy of large private interests with cash and power and the desire to use both for their own ends. When we are sufficiently evolved that government becomes unnecessary, I may change my mind. However, that day is far, far away...
Read and rated! This should be read by all Libertarians.
Roy, you're just confirming my old mantra, “Where there are no rules, bullies rule.” It's true that there has been a corporate takeover, but that just follows from the old line (this one not mine): “Power abhors a vacuum.” The Libertarian myth is that if you remove government as a source of power, no one will have power. That's obviously false. You just have to look to the biggest muscle that's left after We The People withdraw and you'll know who your next Big Government is going to be. All government is at risk fo being called Big, so we can just ignore that part and that fear. And all people capable of rule are at risk of Government. There is only the singular question: by whom?
Stellaa, you're right that the Libertarians and Republicans will spin these things as failures of other-than-them, and you cites some good examples of fodder they can use to build such misinformation from, if they're clever. One way they've plainly invested well is in spin artistry. The democrats need to invest better in such command of message or they will be be overwhelmed by the cyclones of propagandistic confusion tossed out at them by the other side. I guess part of why I write these things is so that there will be at least an example of how such spin might go. I guess why I get so mad at Open Salon for its editorial policy is for how bad a job they do of making any of it visible to anyone who might care.

Nikki, Democrats want the very best in people to come out but are too trusting. Ironically, the Republicans (who offer a theory that people who should be left to their own devices) never actually trust that things will just come out ok, left to their own devices. They control everything they can, all in the name of suggesting that no control of anything is ever needed. Go figure. But the net result is that Republicans command the political stage not out of popularity but unliteral abdication by the Democrats, who refuse to boldly offer a message that refutes the nonsense spoken by the Republicans and the Libertarians.

Kenny, I don't know how many would listen, but you're welcome to circulate the news. I myself have traditionally counted myself as part-Libertarian, but am reconsidering that stance. See my follow-up post, coming soon (probably tomorrow or Tuesday).
I like your mantra, succinct, memorable, accurate, with your permission I'll re-use it on appropriate occasions, it's a meme worthy of replication
Roy, absolutely, repeat away. I've used it previously in three other articles: My Secret Shame: Confessions of a Republican Wannabe (June, 2009), Separation of Presidential Powers (December, 2009), and When Bullies Rule (January, 2010). I think it's indeed a drumbeat worth repeating.
I think that it's wonderful that libertarianism is being exposed for the lies that they're based on recently, be it Rand Paul's nostalgia for the "good old days" before the Civil Rights Acts were passed or in the GOP spinmeisters' incredibly lame defenses of BP. The BP oil spill will help to eventually neuter the power of Reaganism that has been having its way with this country and world for too long. It's just unfortunate that innocent creatures have to suffer for the consequences of laissez-faire.
lefty, innocent creatures may include ourselves. I think the extent of the human toll of this nightmare is yet to be tallied. Have you seen the article Ten Things You Need (But Don't Want) To Know About the BP Oil Spill?
Nicely said, Kent.
Well said, and I look forward to reading the next part that you've effectively teased. I very much enjoy the chanting against "big government" that issues from the mouths of people who simultaneously don't want anyone to touch Social Security, Medicare or public housing.
I have no problem with the the concept of regulation. However, it is almost impossible to regulate against very low probability events.

The single most regulated financial entities were the GSE's, who had a dedicated regulator who reported directly to congress. This regulator had a large staff and did extensive audit work, etc.

The gulf oil spill is far from the worst in the world. However, BP will be held accountable to an extent that is unprecedented in history. The financial consequences of deep water drilling will be recognized and dealt with.

I am not arguing for Libertarianism. Rather that new technologies are always going to produce new types of failures and some will be severe.

The fact that BP will pay $15 billion for this (personal estimate) or more is actually good. If other, smaller companies had been responsible, the costs would have directly fallen to the government. And that could have easily happened.

The fact that the US government is able to stand up to BP is one of the differences between us and Somalia.
Anna, thanks for visiting—glad you enjoyed it.

Coyote, there'd be more enjoyment from me about that if I thought they could see their own hypocrisy, since I think it might help to enlighten them. The sad part in their ability to be that way and not see it is that a perfectly legitimate talking/learning point is going to waste.
Nick, these were not new kinds of problems. They were old kinds of problems that were hand-waved away. They were predictable, and predicted, and had even occurred, and yet we had not planned for them. In the case of the oil well, for example, it was anticipatable that a leak might happen where the equipment failed. There should have been a plan that was not only conceived by deployed for stopping the well. I continue to believe, for example, that a set of appropriately placed explosive charges in a circle around the well, all detonated simultaneously, would have caused the well to implode, crimping the flow, and drastically reducing or eliminating flow. Maybe that would work, maybe not, but something like that should have been in place as part of the basic design. Not only was that not done, but there was nothing like it in place. It was either "the well will work or we'll try to turn it off" but no consideration of "what happens if simply turning it off fails".

As to whether we are standing up to BP, I doubt that. I am certain there will be people who are impacted negatively without an ability to reclaim that. I am certain the government will help with some of that without being reimbursed and that some people will be just SOL. Moreover, BP should have suffered not just the need to repay but should be penalized. For example, being told to dig a relief well means being told to create a new revenue source. Fine about that, but let's have us own that revenue source, not BP.

Maybe I'm misremembering, but when Microsoft sparred with someone (Apple? Netscape?) and lost, I seem to recall part of MS's "punishment" was to have to give lots of free copies of their OS to schools... something they would have probably bribed politicians for a chance to do if they could have. Not a punishment at all. This situation is like that. BP is still making money all the way through this "punishment". The things they're being asked to do are all about salvaging oil they can sell, not about just stopping the flow period. They should feel it so soundly that no one is ever tempted to do this again.

The notion that a bank robber would be told he has to pay back every dime of what he stole and then the case will be closed is ludicrous, but that's what I see here. A posture that going after BP for anything other than what can be enumerated is wrong. It's not wrong.
Will, I agree with you corporatism is an issue. But Left/Right is not neutral as to the power of corporatism. You're right that they each share some blame, but the amount of blame is not symmetric. And it's worth noting that Republican rhetoric aside, both Bill Clinton and Obama are very centrist, so in effect both are Right of the true Left. So if the Left were fairly compared, it would have had a lot more regulations in there. A lot of what makes there have been less regulation is that both Clinton and Obama allowed themselves to be lulled into agreeing that business would be smoother without all that, but what's important to see is that this "smoothness" is not a natural position of the Left, and it is a natural position of the Right. It's practically a plank of the Republican party, while it's a point that the Left have sometimes conceded for the sake of other things they've been more focused on. That's not symmetry.

Nonetheless, you make a good point about how the ideological fight does obscure the fact that corporatism is a threat. It's one reason we really need to get some push to bring that under control. And, at least, Obama made a point about this in a State of the Union, he just again made some points trying to sieze the moment specifically as to BP. He's not moving as fast as I like, but I think that's his basic "work to the center, and pre-compromise all you can" thing, which really I don't like. But he does at some level show evidence of understanding.
I find it strange that no extra precautions were taken when they knew that working a blowout @5K depth would be extremely difficult.

I agree with Roy in that you can arrive at hazardous deregulation without libertarianism. Plain old garden variety political corruption can produce the same result.

However, this situation did arise from a libertarian impulse, just not a populist one. Libertarian and conservative used to describe a more or less single group that fractured over WW2 and Cold War interventionalism. The conservatives dropped their objection to joining WW2 after Pearl, and supported an otherwise "prohibitive" expansive federal government and military/industrial complex to serve their post-war borderline irrational fear of communism.

The "free market" ideas were always libertarian and, lacking a economic theory of their own, were adopted by conservatives.

It's not entirely accurate to pin all of the destructive ideas on libertarian philosophy in general. Left-libertarianism more closely resembles the Lockean liberalism we all know (even if we know we don't know it, or knew we didn't, and still wonder what it means ).

The L-Party is right-libertarianism. In short, you should have total self ownership, even to the point of harming yourself. Property/wealth is given the same near-anarchy freedoms, so it is also free to harm you.

We're all victims of conservative libertarianism, which is why they created the Tea Party as libertarian conservatism. It's kind of like a married couple that keeps their last names and have separate credit histories. When the man goes bankrupt, they live off the wife's untarnished reputation.

The "libertarian intellectuals" (given results, a term I don't think applies) solved the "It doesn't work" problem long ago. I promise you this is true --- they don't care if it works. They poo-poo at anyone suggesting it perform to that level. It is, after all, a theory of pure liberty for the sake of the theory. And it pays well.
Hi, Paul. Thanks for your observations, as always! I don't have a lot to add but did enjoy the analysis.
Excellent thinking and writing. Glad to see, after my five-month hiatus, that smart stuff still makes it into the most rated if not the cover.
So right. There is not much thinking that goes into the "less is more" crowd. Nostalgia for what never was as they collect their SS checks.
When we had our teabaggers on the sidewalks april 15, there was a plethora of white heads and wheelchairs among the overrkill of red, white, and blue everything. Their world no longer exists.
Great post, Kent.

I suppose we will have to agree to disagree how predictable this was. There were multiple, redundant systems to prevent leakage, but they all failed. The problem, in hindsight, is that they weren't independent. That is, the overall failure of the system caused the safety devices to fail.

This can be prevented in the future. Your idea about explosive charges would likely work, as well as a number of other things.

BP will not produce from this well. Nor will the relief wells produce oil.

Americans use 21 million barrels of oil per day.

I think BP will end up paying approximately the cost of the spill, although it is impossible to precisely compensate the victims, and some will get nothing or too little and some will reap excess compensation.

Anyway, regardless of your feelings about BP, the fact remains that Pemex or the state owned oil companies do not pay for their mistakes, generally. The US action may not satisfy you, but it is unprecedented in the world. That is, other than Europe, it simply wouldn't happen anywhere else.

40% of BP shareholders are in the US and include pension funds, so this entire notion of 'them' and 'us' is to some material extent, simply arbitrary. BP pays taxes. BP pays royalties. We use oil. The people on that rig were American workers and they didn't want to die.
Whoa Nellie!
I sense a danger here of letting the medial wonkiverse redefine "Libertarianism" into something the opposite of it's actuality ala "Liberal" and "Conservative".

Even the current "Libertarian Party" only co-opted the name, they are as far to the right of classic libertarian thought as Kublai Khan was to it's left.

Given that I hate anything that ends with "ism", the libertarian ethos historically was near the Jeffersonian view of democracy
initially and began diverging with the introduction of state currency decades later.

In a nutshell, limited government (though without outright evisceration, said caveat was a given at the time), social liberality conjoined with fiscal conservation.

It stopped there, but others since continually try to morph the word to serve their own ends.

A robustly free society, without foreign adventure to drag down the national purse was always the hallmark of the libertarian!

(Ayn Rand was no libertarian, she was a co-opter, this "Atlas" is shrugging!)

Down with victory through redefinition!
o'steph, thanks for stopping in. Glad it resonated, and thanks for mentioning it made it onto the rated last 4 hours list. That's something, I guess.

Nick, are you making a “too big to penalize” argument when you raise the issue of stockholders? You lost me on that. The fact is that the company did something extraordinarily bad that it never should have done. If it gets penalized, that isn't the fault of those offering the penalty. If you don't penalize them in that situation, what incentive is there for any large company with lots of stockholders to fear. Put in another metaphor, we don't usually concern ourselves with the number of mouths to feed or kids that will grow up fatherless if we send a man to prison. (Or, if we do, then getting married or having kids becomes a tool for getting lighter sentencing, which is grossly unfair.)

Fred, there may be a historical libertarianism hidden somewhere inside that is being maligned, I'm not sure. I'm weak in that area of history and will to some extent take your word about it for now, though I'll try to go research it some more later. In any case, that's not what I'm addressing. I'm much more concerned with the people who are running around nowadays pushing libertarianism as it has come to be as a virtue in and of itself. Modern libertarianism seems to have a single-minded focus on eliminating all mechanism and process and decisions that followed after the original Constitution, as if there were something near-sacred in the original texts and all that has come after is blasphemy. The fact that education and health are commonly overlooked by modern libertarians as a reasonable extension of what the “general welfare” was about (and I hear there is even some historical basis for it being about that anyway) is why I find the party to have lost its way.
Fred is right. At one time, libertarians were liberals seeking a more limited government, ala' Jefferson and others. Economically, however, classical liberals, unlike, to a degree, Jefferson and those founding Americans who believed in strict corporate regulation.

Anyway, New Deal liberalism sent the libertarians in search of a new name.

The theories evolved from there, and devolved in relation to the Constitution, which is liberal. The libertarian idea of an almost non existent government and citizen volunteerism is not in the spirit or letter of the Constitution -- it's about functional liberty, not "pure."

PS-Point I meant to make above -- libertarian economic ideas rode in on the Reagan conservative wave. Then the slow destruction began......
To quote the late great, whoever it was who said this first: "Right on!"
The 2 events you refer to definitely have that lack of oversight in common. What was it that Franklin said in "Poor Richard's Almanac"? It may be appropriated here: "Put your eggs all in one basket. And then watch that basket."
Unfortunately, thanks due largely to previous administrations, we have gotten out of the habit of watching the basket at all.
A very complex issue here Kent and many comments to mull over here already.

My own views here are many. As long as we the US of A continue to us our military as an end to advance our goals in the world and spend so much of our GDP on it, there will be no change. One good reason Bee Pee is calling all the shots here is that it supplies our military with over 80% of its energy needs like fuel and gasoline. We the public can all boycott them to hell and back and it will not make a dime's worth of difference.
Defending our country gets big play with the limited gov't folks. National defense is number one for them.

I was just watching a news clip on the tube and heard the words cutting national entitlements. 'Tis easy for people to attack the few social programs in this country. We don't have many. It is also easy to point out that these programs will run out of money sooner rather than later. Yup, a given. What is not spoken of lately is how the revenues from these programs were moved from the programs themselves and over to the general revenue. This was like cutting their throats and making them bleed to death from lack of funding. Gee folks, now this chicken is dead, lets end his suffering here.
So after all, we the people would rather keep this money in our collective pockets. We can invest it so much better than the big gov't types.Sounds good till you think of the sick and elderly who often cannot save any money to begin with. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

I don't know any more answers than you do but I do know this much. Some other way to move humans around at 55 miles an hour or more needs to be found here. Or else we will have learned nothing from the horror of this oil spill.
It is coming here as I write this and so many here are screaming about it. Yet we are all to blame here too.
Policies and opinions must change. Or our human race will fail to survive. We will have fouled our own rice bowl in out quest to dominate and control.
Paul, thanks for the extra background. I had long wondered if name similarity between liberals and libertarians had been an issue, for example.

Walter, yes, we seem to have egg on our collective face due to that failure to be watchful. :)

Mission, you're right that on top of everything else, we need to watch our collective priorities. This is a tricky thing because the priorities have to come from the people, and yet we're an advertising-driven society, which means there's a theory among some that the people will want what you tell them to want. So it calls into question the independence of the electorate at some level. But where I would really look for blame is at the top, lack of leadership. Obama is capable of leading but has only sporadically stepped up to the plate and done it. He has a lot of issues here that leave him teed up to dive right in ... to mix several sports metaphors possibly beyond recognition. Obama needs to summon his inner Jimmy Carter and get to work offering a vision for a greener tomorrow.
Sorry Kent, I still must equivocate.
Modern "Libertarians" (I am a liberally conservative progressive libertarian myself) don't do those things!
Those who would like to weez the libertarian aura such as George Will aren't libertarian they are neo-cons!
I've heard Will baltantly state that "the constitution authorizes military spending but not social spending by government" yet the constitution says "the common defense and the general welfare".
Playing with definitions is their game.
Ayn Rand perverts libertarian but says she is one, idiots like Reagan and the ditto-heads who love him took that stolen ball and try to run with it.
If you accept their redefining the world through rose-colored glasses then not only do they win, but I have a song for you!
I got value from this post, and I am, especially, dismayed by EVERYTHING about Rand Paul.

Fred, I get what you're saying. But at the same time, you must understand the bind I'm in, wanting to specifically reject an ideology which self-identifies using the name they have. If the public were not buying the labeling, I could almost agree. But your group has failed to do what it needs to do hold onto the name.

I get the problem completely. I've lived the problem in other settings, admittedly more technical. We failed to control the use of certain names we had a traditional right to and we ultimately lost claim to them.
Will writes: "You're missing one important point: Libertarians are not, and have not been, in control of anything. "

That's true, but only in a limited sense. While there are few "card carrying" libertarians, the libertarian economic ideology has been largely adopted by Republicans, and to a lesser extent even by Democrats. In that sense libertarians have "won," even though few "official" libertarians hold political power. (In the same way that there are very few Christian reconstructionists, even as that kind of thinking now permeates much of conservative American Christianity.)

But I'd like to look at these disasters in a larger context. To the disasters that Kent has mentioned we could add the savings and loan scandal, Enron, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the loss of the manufacturing base, the increasing health care crisis, the immigration problem, the looming Social Security disaster, and so on.

In just a half-century we have gone from winning WWII and rebuilding Europe and Japan, to the current situation. We no longer seem capable of dealing with large problems. While libertarian thinking may account for some of that, surely it does not account for all of it, and there must be some other factors at work. I have a feeling that something has become rotten at the core, but I don't know what that is.

It may have something to do with an inability or unwillingness to accept reality. We fought in Iraq for several years with the situation deteriorating every month while the administration insisted that everything was fine. Everything was fine at Enron -- until it wasn't. We stand around watching our manufacturing base being destroyed and do nothing. While tens of millions have no health insurance and increasing numbers cannot afford it we have "the finest health care system in the world." We come to the brink of financial disaster and then fail to implement reforms that would prevent that from happening again. What's going on here?
Mark, I'm always glad to find I haven't wasted people's time. I want readers to think they've walked away with something useful in exchange for the time they've spent.
Mishima, I think at least part of the discussion you raise needs to include a separation between libertarian ideas and libertarian politicians. I have often said I'd trade my vote for a right to be seriously heard by others who will vote. There is great power in a persuasive idea. Getting even two people to agree with an idea completely outweighs having voted oneself, and some ideas sway many more than 2 people. The notions that it was ok not to oversee these companies because “the market would take care of it” may not have been voted in by a team of libertarians, but the idea comes straight out of libertarian economics. So blaming it on the people who were in office is only a partial answer to the story—yes, someone was asleep at the helm when they decided to allow certain processes sans oversight. But it's not fair to go a step further and call these democratic ideas. These were points of compromise where someone trusted that these ideas were better thought out than they were.

I'm not even blaming anyone. I'm basically saying "Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me." (Hopefully I got that arranged better than Bush did.) My point is that we may not have realized libertarian ideas were as full of pitfalls as they turned out to be, but let's not be foolish enough to keep believing in the unseen hand to keep us safe in situations that call for good old fashioned regulation.
Great, Kent, Loved the Rachel Maddow quote. The reference to Somalia was right on. Have you checked out the concept of "voluntaryism" that some of the libs, including Ron Paul, espouse? Pure magical thinking.
Back for seconds...
As per usual, you attract the best minds.
I am with Mishima that something is rotten at the very core. We have become so much of a corporate country that it poisons everything we touch.
Also at work is the tendency for those who regulate an industry to become friends with that industry, and they would never hurt their friends, eh? That is part of the reason that Madoff made off with so much money.
Not being written from a "liberal" perspective, where "more" government is "more," I think that maybe some of my conservative family and friends might agree with this.

Thought of one more...
Somalia. When Richard Burton (not Elizabeth's husband) toured the region, he asked his guide what country he was in because all the men dressed quite differently from each other. The guide said, "Oh, it's Somalia. Every man is his own Sheik."
o'steph, yes, coziness is a tough thing to fend off. there's such a fine line between being collegial and shirking one's duties. I always say of ethics, though, that you're probably being ethical as long as you're always asking questions. When you get to the place where you're no longer asking questions, that's a danger sign. Then again, even that rule can be manipulated by clever use of “distractions” and I think that's how it's managed now—keep the press busy with something but not necessarily the key thing, rather something that can be afforded. There are Jedi mind tricks being practiced everywhere. And yes, there certainly are some great minds that have landed here today. I've learned plenty. Input from all sides is welcome, as long as it's civil.

Denese, well, I'm an independent, not a liberal, so I hope that shows through and does contribute to a readability such as you describe. Let me know how you fare. Tell them they're welcome to participate.
I am not with the people who dismiss these problems by saying its all about greed, as if some emotional or behavioral aspect could explain both of theses terribly destructive events. Both events are the very direct outcome of the legal-fiction persons we call corporations.
If "you" are a corporation, the courts of our land have adjudicated the fact that your highest and most sacred duty is to make money for your shareholders. End of story. So there is the problem and there is the solution, neither of which can be addressed by any semblance of libertarianism.
We the People, In Order to Form a More Perfect Union . . .
words that describe what the "government" is. We have to either make corporations serve a different purpose, or have a social component grafted into their rootstock or we have to create a more vigorous regulatory structure, something that is anathema to the "small gov't/no gov't" types that now call themselves libertarians.
I for one dont think the answer is hidden. Yes there will be accidents, but like cars these days that have all kinds technologies like sensors to help us know our place in space better (accident avoidance), and anti-lock brakes and better builti-in safety features like air bags/curtains, crumple zones, headrests, etc to provide some measure of survivability we need better defined regulation on both the things we use and need (banks and oil) and things that we create to serve us (corporations).
And that, is the answer to "free market libertarianism" which exists only when a government has defined and organized a market. Or you have Somalia.
I didn't read all comments so if someone already said the same thing then use their comments as primary.

But, if you wanted a nuanced view you would note that the only reason that BP was drilling where they were is that the government wouldn't let them drill in some places on land where we know there is oil. Alaska for example.

So, while you like to say it is not enough government that created a situation where an accident like this could happen, I can easily say it was too much government that created the situation where this accident could happen.

And, to piggyback on your Hitchiker quote, if the accident had occurred on land in Alaska, it would be easier to fix quickly and inexpensively.

But, I doubt nuance works at OS.
Tim, nice to see you. Some good points there. I won't reply at length because you touch on some points that are addressed by tomorrow's second installment. Maybe you can tell me if I've still left issues unanswered then. I think what I'll say on greed dovetails with what you're saying, but you might find yourself taking up some nuanced position that's different. We'll see.
Steve, thanks to you, too, for bringing the opposition viewpoint into a group that has been mostly in agreement. While I don't agree with you, I should begin by saying I am very thankful that your case is presented in a civil and clear way, and I'll try to adopt a similar tone as I explain my reason for disagreement.

It's true what you say about the decision not to let people drill inland, but that's like a burglar saying “because you didn't let me in your house to take your jewelry, of course I broke into your garage.” No one told them they had to drill that far out. So that part of your argument doesn't wash.

But there's another angle to it. Let's suppose even that we had desperately approached BP and said “get me oil” and that was all they could find. That isn't the (absence of) regulation that was a problem. CBS 60 minutes had a piece, and Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann echoed it the next night, but I have been unable to track down the video -- if anyone knows where it is a pointer would be appreciated -- where they basically told a story of BP rushing the process rather than just following established safety procedures. Well, ok, they shouldn't have done that. But BP's safety record had not been good. According to The Daily Green, “Two BP refineries not only account for 97% of all "flagrant" violations in the U.S. refining industry, but most of the violations cited were classified as "egregious willful," according to a Center for Public Integrity investigation of Occupational Safety and Health Administration records.” Some of this you can attribute to Obama administration not pushing existing regulations as they should, but some of it is stuff that was inertial from prior administrations. As Obama has noted, the relationship between regulators and the refineries is too cozy. If a company is screwing up that badly, it should not be operating, or it should be feeling enough pain that it doesn't ever even consider saying “let's just press ahead and accept the risk.” The risk should be so painful that they don't want to accept it any more than we do. Otherwise, it is not a disincentive, it's just a minor irritant and part of business as usual, to be afforded and ultimately ignored.
Kent, your response doesn't wash. To compare drilling for oil, a legal and valuable activity, to burglary is misdirected and unfortnuately seeks to make the activity out to be a bad thing. Using oil for energy and other products (e.g. plastics) is a good thing that makes our lives better, albeit with some trade-offs (a wood based economy would also have trade-offs). We should be seeking the most rational ways to make oil productive and safe.

I think we should be able to agree that drilling a mile under the ocean is less productive and less safe than on land or closer to the shore. But, the government in fact did tell the oil companies they could not drill where it was most productive and safe so they end up drilling where it is less so. This also means that any risk taken by BP, wise and unwise, has a larger impact if an accident occurs.

I am not defending BP. They don't have a good track record. The government doesn't either since a wise cost/benefit/risk trade-off analysis would have long ago concluded that drilling in Alaska was safer. It is only ideology and the heavy hand of government that prevents the simpler course.
Steve, I'm not trying to disparage by using the burglary analogy. I realize some people have trouble with analogies because they think they are literal equivalences in all respects. I merely meant to say “Just because we told you you can't do one undesirable thing doesn't mean we forced you to do another even less desirable thing.” The world is full of more choices than that.

It may be that you don't agree with me on the issue of its undesirability, but when faced with “undesirable” vs. “really undesirable” I assume the option of “don't do either” is on the table. You may be assuming not.
Here's another quote for you, this one from my 22-yr-old son, who is apparently far wiser than Alan Greenspan and Rand Paul:

"Libertarianism is the Scientology of politics."

As for the quandry you pose:

"There is no rational reason for any single individual to need as much money or power as they seem to have amassed, and it seems to be that what goes along with that is an increase in “betting,” even irrational betting."

It has long been my observation that those who amass great wealth without really earning it are indeed often careless with it. Not to get to far into psychobabble, but I suspect some part of them secretly WANTS to be rid of it in order to relieve the guilt that comes with running a financial scam. In short, like a lot of garden variety criminals, they wanna get caught.

Obviously, my theory does not apply to sociopaths like Bernie Madoff or psychopaths like Dick Cheney.
Yeah, Kent, why would you disparage burglars stealing from a few by comparing them with oil executives stealing from everybody? I have one word that puts McGarret's lame argument to rest:

BP was drilling deep water because that's where they thought the oil would be. The shallow deposits are easier. They drill the easy stuff first.
Most coastal states with tourism don't want rigs spoiling the view. Sometimes you may see the lights of a rig at night, though.

The idea that "government" caused the danger because they MADE BP, etc, drill deep water is absurd. The idea that opening up ANWR would have made BP not drill deep water is also absurd. If ANWR is like North Slope, that heavy oil isn't nearly as profitable as the sweet crude. Also, the GOM is set up with the infrastructure to handle those many, many wells it has.

The "gubbermint made 'em do it" is this week's Rwing media meme. Last week was environmentalists did it, the week before --North Korean sub attack.

I'm not being critical, mind you, I'm just suggesting that Sarah Palin is a poor source of information.
If I may be permitted a second comment, I would also like to respond to McGarrett50 (someone whose thoughts here I enjoy reading).
McG - drilling in Alaska is pretty useless to the security and economy of the US. Right now, most of the Gulf oil ends up in Gulf refineries and is used in the US - the North Slope Alaskan crude mostly ends up in SE Asia. As an ex-oil man, I can tell you that once you lease the land (or the section of seafloor) whatever you produce is yours. The US gets a royalty payment, which is often offset by numerous tax incentives. So although the minerals of the US is really part of the commons, the people of the US dont benefit greatly from it.
As far as being "forced" to drill in deeper and deeper water, incentized might be a better description because there was virtually no royalty payments to be made from the lease in question. Further, I remember when I was doing leases for off shore and near shore slant drilling in CA reading about Gulf production. A well would be drilled and shut in as not economic if not producing at least 10k barrels a day and this was 1986, so in much shallower water.
This is to say that there is plenty of available petroleum in shallower water, BP was after the biggest fish with the least royalty cost. ANd they drilled using Cheney-led regulations which dont fly in any other deep sea drilling, not North Sea, not Brazil, not Canadian Artic. Here the issue was the oil companies wrote the regulations using the ex Halliburton CEO whose stock options went from about 4MM to $200mm during his time in the Administration.
Tom, thanks to you and your son for the colorful insights and supportive remarks.

Paul, I think you're right. If they'd been allowed to drill in Alaska not only would they probably eventually have gotten to drilling in the gulf, but there's no obvious reason they wouldn't have proceeded with both in parallel.

Tim, thanks for weighing in with additional details. There is no quota on the number of responses, so feel free to chime in elsewhere if you see fit, as should anyone else in the discussion.
RE: "...where they basically told a story of BP rushing the process rather than just following established safety procedures. "

Jut try the NY Times today. The article is stellar. And nuanced.
Steve, I rummaged and it wasn't clear which one you were referring to. Do you mean this one (from yesterday): In Gulf, It Was Unclear Who Was in Charge of Rig?
Very astute assessment about the myth of no governmental rule and the devil may care attitude those who never anticipate errors, mistakes, or stupid blunders seem to have with our resources, natural and financial. Rated v
Lots of thoughtful comments here. It seems to me, though, that the current place of corporations in our world is compounded by the ridiculous ideology that supposed free markets can do everything better than governments or non-profits. The stupidity underlying that perspective is overwhelming. In the moment that profit becomes the driving inspiration, quality and integrity suffer. There simply is no way around that.

Obama proposes a commission to investigate what went wrong with BP’s oil rig. What went wrong is human greed compounded by inevitable human error. Unfortunately, in this case, as is always the case with corporations, the cost of the error will not be shouldered by those most responsible for causing the disaster; it will be shouldered by people that have no real investment in BP, and much more importantly, it will be an entire ecosystem that pays the biggest price.

A commission that investigates what went wrong is not necessary and serves little to no purpose unless it designates foolproof ways to avoid the same problems in the future. What is the way to do that? Do not drill under the ocean. Instead, invest in future forms of renewable energy and an infrastructure that will support those means of energy production and usage. All the rest of it is just political theater that leads nowhere except to another human error that costs too much.
libertarian ideas have a lot of relevance to the current govt, straw men notwithstanding. but just like democrats/republicans, one cannot judge the entire party by one particular extremist. I would point to Perot as having strong libertarian leanings & a more mainstream candidate.
Kent, yes, it was in today's print editions.
"I hope you can see the connection I'm making. The BP oil spill was not inconceivable. The company just refused to conceive it. The financial problems with banks were not inconceivable. The banks just refused to conceive them."

I couldn't agree more with this quote. These were not one in a billion outside possibilities, these were real and systemic problems in both cases.
Hi, FTDiva. Glad to see you here and thanks for the support.

Rick, I'm not terribly happy with Obama's response, but giving him the maximum benefit of the doubt, what else do you suggest in order to make sure that the case is successfully made? Jumping straight to a trial?

vzn, I'm not judging the party, I'm judging the apparent ideology. What mechanism in neolibertarianism (I'll call it, to avoid the naming issue Fred Hallman raised) do you see that will solve any of this? I don't see it. Who does speak for these ideas and why isn't that person speaking vocally out, disclaiming Rand Paul?

Steve, thanks. I had seen that article but haven't had time to read it in detail. I'll try to make the time.

Progressive Liberal, thanks for visiting and for highlighting what resonated. It's always interesting to know what's hitting home.
Government regulations are what pushed oil rigs so far out to sea and made this disaster possible.

Having said that, I don't disagree that safety regulations are important. Of course there needs to be oversight, and Libertarians are not, for the most part, complete anarchists. But will more bureaucracy really prevent major disasters like this from happening?

The problem, I think, is that people tend to go either/or with free market vs. government. Neither entity can operate with perfect efficiency, and both are antagonistic towards the other. More free market may not be the solution, but neither is more government.
Excellent post Ken, libertarian utopia requires good, solid, well formed humans they would have to be: caring, loving, full of self control and willing to sacrifice their own wishes on by their own accord, for the welfare of the many.

As with the dreams of utopian equality promised by communism (whose end result is a libertarian utopia which would come after the period of violent take over, reeducation and a few generations downwind) Libertarianism requires an impossible scenario.

History illustrates clearly that any power vacuum will be filled by the strongest, when there is no authority the bullies usually crop up to run the show, they do so untill the people get fed up being abused and revolt.

Somalia is the perfect Libertarian paradise and the final result of libertarian theory put into practice.
Jane, I'm with you on the criminal thing. Frankly, if this thing continues and there isn't “crime against humanity” legislation in place to handle it, such should be created. We speak of turtles mired in oil as if they were the only casualty, but there will doubtless be consequential human deaths when an entire part of the ecosystem is impacted, the only difficulty is enumerating it.

As to the $75M, I'm not sure that is going to apply, though ultimately I bet someone will try to make it. (The Daily Kos seems skeptical, too.)

I think the kinds of things it's intended to cap are things like how many years people can sue for loss of business (e.g., Can I sue again next year if the fish haven't come back?) And can people with indirect damages sue? (e.g., Can I sue if I own a hotel and no one comes because there is no beach or wildlife to visit?) Indirect damages extend in space and time and through indirect causality.

I'm not for a limit in cases like this; I think the courts should sort that out. If that bankrupts the company, then so be it. That is the cost of doing this business and if it's prohibitively high we need to be out of that business, we don't need to be pretending the cost was less and just hiding that cost by requiring indirect victims to absorb it in the name of claiming the cost was low.

For example, consider a pure hypothetical. Suppose a certain event killed all honeybees. Suppose the growers of citrus fruits, soybeans, avocados, almonds, etc. sued and the courts ruled that only the makers of honey were allowed to claim injury. Clearly if there are effects on the ecosystem and we cannot grow these things, and especially if we can never again grow them, that really matters.
E. Magill, the government didn't force them out to there. They'd have gone anyway. And I think they would have gone right away if they thought anyone would let them and if they feared someone would get there first. It's strange that the Republicans (not saying you are one, but your story is consistent with their party line) are so about “individual choice” and yet they use terminology like “force” when describing how they act in response to economic motivation.

Hi, “Bosh” ... Interesting way of deconstructing it by looking at what those systems call on their people to be like in order to achieve Utopia. Thanks for the analysis.
“...maybe sometimes accidents just happen...”

We should all remember a statement, repeated endlessly in PSAs about auto safety in the '60s:

"Accidents don't happen; they are caused."

The fact that this bit of common sense has been all but forgotten today, speaks volumes about the state of public discourse in America.
To compare drilling for oil, a legal and valuable activity, to burglary is misdirected and unfortnuately seeks to make the activity out to be a bad thing.

Well, to the extent that oil companies get access to places that are, in effect, taken by the state, and thereby cut off from other parties who may have other uses for the same places (i.e., fishing), the comparison is valid. the comparison is even more valid when the people who get access to the places and the resources trash them through sheer negligence (if not depraved indifference) and make them unusable to others. A Gulf fisherman who has lost the environment on which he depends has indeed been robbed of his livelihood, just as surely as if you had stolen his boat and gouged a hole in its fuel tank.
Motherwell, you make an interesting point about responsibility. On their better days, the Republicans would clainm to be the party of personal responsibility. But when it comes to protecting their own, they have a deliberate blindspot.

On your point about the taking of private property, you're right as well. They care a great deal about the taking of private land. Consider the case of the Lost Liberty Hotel, a protest against the taking of property by eminent domain. On their better days, they care a great deal about the loss of these individual freedoms you mention.

First, I’m not specifically calling out Obama’s commission; I am just saying that it doesn’t serve any real purpose for the future, which is largely what he focuses on in speaking about it. Exxon Valdez has only recently been “resolved” (for lack of a better word, here), and I expect this issue will go on longer than that one did. Certainly, gathering evidence to prosecute this case is necessary. But it doesn’t address the real issues.

What I’m really looking at is the refusal of most of our society to simply admit that we can’t afford to continue on the same path, and that is essentially where all the present attitudes direct us. “Change” and “Hope” --- those are diversions from the realities we face. One of the most pressing realities we face is that we DO need change, but we’re not getting it. Too many people are afraid to face the truth. So we tolerate these short-term displays that lead to nothing.

Even your response to me indicates a sort of short-sighted perspective. Knowing which decision-maker made which decision and which decisions led to the particular incident at hand does not address the real underlying problems we face. That is really more the point I’m making here. I don’t see any real movement towards seriously addressing the real issues.
Rick, my only point in thinking it matters to point fingers is to create a disincentive for future decision-makers to say “I can just not care because no one will go after me.” I think a lot of this problem comes from the sense of invincibility that seems to be shown by the people making these decisions. If they thought “making this wrong could send me to prison” I think they would make future decisions better.
Kent, for the record, I am not a Republican. And yeah, you're probably right, the oil companies would have gone out to the deep waters eventually. But not right away, as other people here seem to think.

I just don't see how increased government regulation would have prevented this from happening. Call me crazy, but I don't. I don't want to sound like Rand Paul, but accidents are going to happen, and while we can try to minimize the frequency, it's all too easy to look in hindsight and say that more safety regulations would have prevented this. Shall I get into campaign contributions and outline how the lack of regulation is partially the fault of Washington in the first place? I believe BP is mostly to blame here, but let's try to be a little more honest with ourselves here.

An accident like this will inevitably lead to more safety, both from within and without, using both government intervention and self-regulation. I don't understand why it has to be one or the other, but not both. Heck, Exxon has the best safety record of any oil company out there today. I wonder why that is...

"I think a lot of this problem comes from the sense of invincibility that seems to be shown by the people making these decisions."

No doubt about your above statement; I fully agree. But how relevant is that, really, when it comes to dealing with the actual base issues? Sure, we can blame a few individuals, and we can try to strengthen regulation, but until we eliminate the actual sources of these problems, they will continue to plague us. And what I see and hear is not to eliminate those problems, but instead I hear arguments of how we can continue with them in a "safer" manner. I think that's absurdly short-sighted.

And not to beat a dead horse, but after the Bush/Cheney administration -- and having them running around giving speeches, selling books, teaching at our universities, etc -- listening to our government talk about enforcing laws just holds no real meaning to me. That's why I call it political theater; it is a good show, especially for cable network news, but it leads nowhere.

Let me approach this from a slightly different angle. Do you think we should continue drilling off-shore oil wells? If so, and if we do, then it doesn't matter how much regulation we create; the ultimate result will be another leak, another spill, etc. It is inevitable. And those who suggest that the cost is worth it, are fools. Plain and simple. And it won't undo the damage we are now facing, which will probably be with us -- you and me and the others commenting on this page -- throughout the rest of our lives to varying degrees.

I fully agree that the people who created this mess should be held fully accountable. So, let me pose another question: "Where do we draw the line of responsibility and non-responsibility?" Do we stop with BP personnel? Should we include legislators who supported this off-shore drilling and then failed to monitor it fully? What about those in Congress who insist BP responsibility be "capped" at $75, 000,000? Is that reasonable? Are they then complicit in the criminal aspects of this disaster, and if so, to what extent? And what about a citizenry that was warned about this problem over 30 years ago, and turned away from that honest, intelligent warning and, instead, elected a hollywood actor that initiated all of the deregulation that has led to this, not to mention the other administrations that continued that trend?

In the end, discovering who was actually responsible for what only creates more questions that will not be addressed. Meanwhile, all we are hearing is the question of who we should blame and how we should blame them. And the next leak/spill will bring the same question, and the next and the next and the next ...

The problem is so much bigger than BP that focusing on that alone is ridiculous and counterproductive. It seems comparable to a situation like if the U.S. had concentrated solely on repairing Pearl Harbor instead of eliminating the threat that caused that problem. I think you allude to this very point in your opening statements about the attitudes that lead to our present set of circumstances. Yet, what we hear in the news is not "how we eliminate the problem", but rather "how we can keep it".
Rick, I think you make some good points. I could answer some of your questions, but to borrow from your overall point, it wouldn't get us closer to the solution. I would be comfortable with a total ban on deep water drilling and a lot more restrictions on shallow water drilling. If that drives up the prices of oil and we have to rush to make green energy, so much the better. I do think some sacrifice will be involved somewhere and I don't see where any is being requested. I think that's a big piece of things. Anyway, thanks for some points well made.
I just don't see how increased government regulation would have prevented this from happening.

Well, it certainly didn't happen after eight years of uninterrupted rule by regulation-happy tax-and-spend liberals. If you don't see the connections, it's because you're choosing not to look.

I don't want to sound like Rand Paul, but accidents are going to happen...

Oops, too late, you sound like Rand Paul. Like I already said, accidents don't happen; they are caused. That, at least, is what us little people are taught, because when we get into accidents, we don't have a phalanx of corporatarian suckups shielding us from the consequences; therefore we have to take reasonable measures to cause as few accidents as possible. Apparently, according to people like you and Rand Paul, "personal responsibility" only applies to the little people.

An accident like this will inevitably lead to more safety, both from within and without, using both government intervention and self-regulation.

Ah yes, the "magic of the marketplace" will "inevitably" make everything right (someday), therefore none of us have to do anything and we should all shut up and stop questioning our Brave Captains Of Industry. So how come "accidents like this" didn't ALREADY "lead to more safety?" Not destructive enough to a sufficient chunk of our environment? Also, can you give us an example of "self-regulation" being consistently effective at preventing failures and negligence?

Heck, Exxon has the best safety record of any oil company out there today. I wonder why that is...

Possibly because Exxon was forced to account to the public, while BP was allowed to skate by with the help of corporatarian ideologues and exceptions granted by bureaucracies degraded by Republicans who didn't care about small business, the environment, or American national interests.

I'm trying to see what your proposed alternative here is. Government-run oil wells, because under government regulation, nothing could ever go wrong?
What is absolutely clueless is your assumption that governmet HAS a clue. So let us have a bunch of people ignorant of the technical aspects of oil drilling and deep water physics make a bunch of laws. Yeah - that's the trick! You guys are brilliant.
Extremism doesn't seem to work for long, if at all. Purity is not possible. When will people learn and accommodate to these truths?
Another well-reasoned post Kent. I go along with libertarianism on moral issues like yes to gay marriage, legalize pretty much all drugs etc. I certainly do not believe that there is anything inherantly better about smaller government.

Check out any of the UN or OECD tables on quality of life around the world. Whether it's in terms of longevity, literacy, low crime, reduced poverty, scant corruption, economic well-being, low unemployment, a more eductaed populace etc, the top 20 or 30 places are dominated by the higher taxed, bigger public spending countries. Move farther down the charts and you see a lot more countries where the government does less and less except maybe paying for a military strong enough to keep them in power.
So let us have a bunch of people ignorant of the technical aspects of oil drilling and deep water physics make a bunch of laws.

That argument would sound a wee bit plausible if the people who claimed superior competence about "the technical aspects of oil drilling and deep water physics" had actually shown some.
A more apt quote might be "Fox in the henhouse!" Because there aren't any consequences for the despoilers of the economy - they not only got away with it, they profited more than they would have had it not happened. The consequences are only felt at the level where actual people actually live - the people upside down on those crappy mortgages, for example.

I don't believe all these Tea Party people are really for 'small' government or less government - they are all for less of THIS government. They were all fine with the fact that Bush expanded the government and its power more than any president in history.
E. Magill: the fact that you have to ask that question, after more than a century of effective and beneficial govermnent regulation of wide areas of US economic activity, once again proves that, like most other corporatarians, you simply have no grasp of post-Jefferson US history. Get an education before you try to pretend you're the smartest guys in the room.
E.M., you've twisted the words of what I wrote to a point where you're asking me to argue against something I didn't say. I didn't say “must” anywhere in there. I asked questions, and you zeroed in on them as if I'd demanded one specific action. I'm going to disengage on that point because if I continue to debate the position you ask me to debate, you'll miss the point that I'm saying we have to go back and figure out seriously why the situation wasn't working. And it wasn't working. This was not “a mistake” ... this was, from accoutns I've seen, a willful violation of existing safety policy even internal to the company, and because the execs thought they could get away with it. I previously proposed, in my article Pondering Stronger Oil Drilling Regulations a rule like: “Notwithstanding the ordinary limits on liability that would apply to a corporation or LLC, the officers of any oil company shall be personally both civilly and criminally liable in the case of any negligence that leads to the consequential deaths of any person.” That's not hard to administer and doesn't greatly increase the size of government. But it gets to the heart of the matter, which is that the oil execs had no incentive to care about their own safety people saying “this is dangerous.” But they should. I proposed in there several other rules which are again just changing the penalties to be harsher and to have a larger repertoire of criminal penalties when the outcome is bad for various broad reasons. This does not amount to second-guessing the techniques of doing their job, it amounts to saying “develop your own best practices, but really use them.” In this case, the problem is that they had best practices and didn't feel the urge to use them because the smell of money got the best of them.
motherwell, thanks for chiming in with the detailed responses. I concur, for what that's worth (since I'm just the host of this discussion, not an omniscient party).

E.M., in your reply to motherwell, you are again coming dangerously close to putting words in someone else's mouth. Please do not do this. I think it's provocative and does not yield healthy conversation. You're not just suggesting what they might think but also a rationale for why they might think it, and a bad rationale at that. In effect, you're making an ad hominem attack on their reasoning skills and baiting an argument the other person hasn't sought to make.
ohsuzannah, you write “What is absolutely clueless is your assumption that governmet HAS a clue.”

Government is us. If you have a problem with self-government, this probably isn't the place to raise it.

You also write, “So let us have a bunch of people ignorant of the technical aspects of oil drilling and deep water physics make a bunch of laws.”

First of all, the government is perfectly capable of finding experts on areas where it needs to. Second of all, the laws do not have to speak to the technical details. The laws could be of various different kinds. See my article Pondering Stronger Oil Drilling Regulations for examples of laws that don't require second-guessing the technical competence of the people involved. Having a plan at all for what to do in the case of a leak, especially since such leaks have historical precedence, is not rocket science. There was, in effect, no plan for this forseeable event. There should be required to be.

You write, “Yeah - that's the trick! You guys are brilliant.”

Please confine your remarks to the proposals and not to the people. If there is a proposal made that is technically unsound, speak to that. If you can't, perhaps it's best to hold back. But characterizing individuals will not further debate here. Thanks.
Lea, I don't know. I think sometimes these tactics work locally within certain groups. Civilization involves a continual struggle against extremes, I suspect. When one doesn't police one's community against the extreme, it soon becomes the norm.

Abrawang, I think you're right about the stats, and I tend to agree with you. I think the sell job is easier in some of those countries because they are either smaller or more homogenous, though. Part of the difficulty of doing the same here isn't that it wouldn't work, I think, but that people dislike each other enough that ... well, go to the interview I did with HoboLawStudent and read her answer to the question “what frustrates you the most?” (Search for the pink box in the middle of the article if you're in a hurry, though the entire article is fine reading for another time.) The story she tells and her commentary on it somehow seem relevant here.

Sandra, good contributed quote, thanks! Also, I'm with you on “consequences.” See my article on stronger regulations and you'll see I think that responsibility and consequences are really central.
motherwell, I'll ask the symmetric thing of you as I asked of E.M., even though I think the reply you made was predictable because of the way E.M. had set you up to respond. Please don't let it become personal. Your technical arguments are already sound.
Thank you for a rational voice about the romantic notion that libeterians have of no taxes and no government. It has been my experience that every time tax cuts go into effect, the middle class bears the brunt of it. From Reaganomics to Bush II, the middle class has had to pay earned income taxes to their municipality, absorbed higher property taxes to support their local school districts, social security and Medicare taxes have risen dramatically, and incomes cannot possibly keep pace with the actual cost of living. This has happened because of tax cuts for the ultra wealthy, and shady tax deals for corporations. The average citizen does not have a chance. So please, do not lower my taxes anymore, I cannot afford it. My point is, that when taxes are lowered, that money has to come from somewhere else-usually the middle class! R
LibMom, thanks for your support. Based on your remarks, you might enjoy my articles Redistributing Burden and Tax Policy and the Dewey Decimal System.