An alternative to popular faith

Those rotten scoundrels have ruined our oceans and our shores. They should pay not only for the cleanup, not only for the jobs lost because of the pollution, not only for the damage, but they even should pay for jobs lost because of President Obama’s decision to stop deep-water drilling. BP should pay, pay, pay until they bleed, then pay some more. These people must be held accountable.

Phew! Now I feel better.

But, wait. What is BP? It’s a legal description, nothing more than words on a piece of paper. It has no physical existence. You can’t punish BP any more than you can punish a law or a page of sheet music. BP, as a legal entity, neither caused, nor can cure, the oil spill. That disaster was caused by people, and it is people, not a piece of paper, who must be held accountable.

So the question becomes, which people should be punished? BP has a huge number of employees, the vast majority of whom had nothing to do with the oil spill. It has a huge number of innocent shareholders, a huge number of innocent suppliers, a huge number of innocent oil users. In some ways, you and I are part of BP, because as users of oil and oil-related products (i.e. all products) we are affected by what its employees do.

Which of those people should be “held accountable”? What if holding all of BP “accountable” means thousands of innocent people will be fired, or innocent suppliers will be put out of business, or all of us will have to pay more for our oil and gas, or all of us who hold BP stock, either directly or as part of a fund, will lose? What if punishing BP has an adverse effect on the whole economy. Is that wise?

Somewhere between vengeance and economic reality lies the answer. Punishing BP, as a company, punishes all of us who already are suffering from the gusher. And though widespread vengeance may feel good, there is a “cut-nose-spite-face” aspect to be considered. So, what can be done to help prevent a repeat?

First, let’s identify the people specifically responsible. Certain BP employees. Certain employees of BP suppliers. The guys who mixed and poured the rotten cement that didn’t hold.

And, with all the focus on BP, let’s not forget those government employees who failed equally. I’m talking about the people who, after having been bribed with nice gifts, so readily approved all of BP’s actions.

Yes, we should fine, fire, even jail all the responsible individuals. That would help prevent future problems. Of course, that doesn’t pay for all the efforts to cure the situation nor for all the losses. Who should pay the billions for that?

If you really care about the economy, and are not just flailing out in retribution, you would agree the economically wise approach would be for the federal government to pay. That way, the guilty would be punished, the innocent spared and the economy stimulated.

Government pays = people benefit. BP pays = people pay.

So what’s your choice: Vengeance or money in your pocket?

Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

No nation can tax itself into prosperity