The more I hear about the BP oil spill, the more I’m struck by the fact that, to save a few bucks, the 4th largest corporation on earth just basically flushed itself down the toilet, and yet almost nobody is talking about the aberrant system of incentives that caused this to happen.  Didn’t the tough “Brit” Hayward think, for even a moment, that his position among the Masters of the Universe was at least peripherally related to the survival of the entity that elevated him to such heights?  Well, no.  He was bought in to salvage not the performance, but merely the image, of a rancid corporate outlaw that made its business on a certain amount of human death and suffering, and he was just doing his job.  There are two ways to keep a company out of trouble:  A) Succeed in the marketplace honestly, or B) Cheat.  BP, like so many of its corporate brethren, long ago chose the latter.

Cheating comes in many forms, of course, but clearly the most successful is to simply use the government, through its only legitimate power, enforcing contract law, to kill the competition and slough off one’s costs to others.  Naturally, this option is only available to the largest, most bloated, and welfare-dependent industries; normal people with a product or service to sell must endure the slings and arrows of both the “market” and regulation, a concept which is entirely foreign to, as Karl Rove put it, “history’s actors.”  Thus, say,  a successful restauranteur must provide not just good food, but also responsible and regulated waste disposal, sanitation, and such extra things as fire exits and occupancy restrictions if the unlikely disaster were to occur, although the disaster involved is, as we can see, pretty small potatoes.  On the other hand, an oil company or an investment bank, having been lucky enough to have had considerable input in deciding which laws governing its operation were desirable or not, needn’t worry about such paltry ephemera as customer satisfaction, or even corporate, much less human, survival.  Quarterly bonuses are based on different criteria.  Nice work if you can get it, but isn’t something wrong with this picture?  The restauranteur, under the constant and unrelenting thumb of Big Government, may make a nice living and even leave a thriving business to his children, if they work hard, while the relatively unshackled CEO of some rapacious behemoth might end up both a punchline and global villain, but still walks away with enough cash to provide for at least four idle generations and to put his trophy wife’s name on an opera house, thus garnering maybe a few extra blow jobs?  Yes, it’s good to be the king, but unfortunately only for the king, as we continue to see with thudding regularity.

The “free market,” a concept I would wholly endorse if it contained any semblance of reality, has long since been beaten to a pulp by its phony proponents, and all that remains is a shrinking and increasingly remote elite that has abandoned all useful endeavor in favor of gambling, flim-flam, and the unapologetic purchase of government.   Yet a disturbingly large number still believe in the stern discipline of the market to reign in the plutocrats, against all evidence, thanks to little more than a cynical and rather unsettlingly effective marketing campaign.  If such blind and self-destructive faith-based reasoning survives such a series of discrediting catastrophes of which BP is only the latest, we can kick the notion of Democracy to the curb, once and for all.

Mission Accomplished.


  1. cocktailhag says:

    I read that this morning, and it was obviously on my mind when I wrote this post. What, if not “big government,” can protect people from corporations grown so bloated?

    • dirigo says:

      I don’t think “tea bagger types” have an answer to the dilemma, except, for instance, to offer nonsensical data about the number of car makers from a hundred years ago, and suggest the disappearance of this or that buggy manufacturer, and its supporting (and also disappeared) marketing arm, is relevant to the situation we’re in today – as if it’s an inarguable logical progression which will lead to new wonders for all, sometime soon.

      The birds, fish, turtles, and other wildlife in the gulf are probably not tuned in to that bullshit. They have “other priorities.”

      You might as well watch a silent movie for all that it’s worth, or tune in to the latest missives from the governor of Mississippi.

      • cocktailhag says:

        Would that sometime will ever come. The sentient have their doubts, and a thousand years of history behind them, to boot. It’s just that the mistakes have gotten so much more large and insoluble. Pesky.

  2. The Heel says:

    you have valid points. Not sure I understand why they would have “flushed themselves down the toilet”?
    They made $16 Billion in 2009 and $21 Billion in 2008. The little oops in the gulf will cost them what? a billion or two? That is petty cash. Besides, oil remains in a healthy $70 to $80 range. Sweet. Even if their stock price would tumble. Who cares? They still own the assets that generate double digit billions in profits every year.

    Besides, the media will soon turn to more important topics such as a Palin offspring out of wedlock or another new born Christian Senator’s secret gay sex life – you know the stuff that really matters….

    Buy BP stock. They gained 12% today!

    • cocktailhag says:

      Well, sadly for BP, sort of, the bankers already have a neat, liability-dissolving little breakup planned which will of course create many fees for the designers, and few if any reparations… It’s a story as old as time, or at least dating back to the Reagan era. Johns Manville did it with asbestos, and on and on, so a template is already in place. We’ll see, but those billions will NEVER end up in the hands of the harmed; none of them. That’s what those commie “trial lawyers” are for.

  3. michlib says:

    Such a shame the ” masters of the universe ” who drove us into this ditch now propose draconian cuts to safety net programs as the solution to their malfeasance. But hasn’t that been the plan all along ? When my choice is between tax and spend Democrats or spend and borrow Republicans, I’ll choose pay and go over pay and pray every time.

  4. Been thinking a lot about this topic lately. In addition to what you said about the capture of government by “regulated” business and industry, it seems that both the financial collapse and Deepwater show, rather conclusively, that the central conceit of free market fundamentalism – the rational actor – is a lie.

    In both disasters, the culpable parties actually knew the risks, even knew the potential for their own devastation, but were too blinded by short-term greed to do what a rational person would do in light of those risks: avoid or at least mitigate them.

    No, in both instances, the clown party was going strong, nobody thought it could end, and now everyone else is left with the exploded cigar. These examples, and the everyday, everywhere, anti-rational power of marketing itself, prove quite decisively that the very starting premise of libertarian economics is a sham.

    • cocktailhag says:

      Proof, however, is a relative thing with a bunch that doesn’t believe in friggin’ evolution. Just yesterday Haley Barbour insisted that oil was as natural on the beaches as cellulite, and no more unsightly. They have a good thing going, and what with Blanche and the gang firmly in place, they plan to keep it going.

    • dirigo says:

      There’s the old saw: history rides man rather than the other way round. It may be Twain, but let that go.

      Anyway, the “rational actors” of free market lore can be said to be irrational in today’s circumstances. Their heroes can’t stop the gross pollution of the gulf and, like the bankers, the oilers will nickle and dime about the liability instead of taking responsibility, as they continue to fail to do their jobs.

      Shouldn’t they be fired? Who will, or can, replace them? They can’t answer certainly. I can’t say because I’m not a roughneck.

      The attitude is not rational, but it is, now, arguably criminal. I’m not a lawyer either, but I play one on tee vee, relying also on the “if it looks like a duck” rule of social analysis.

  5. michlib says:

    Goldman Sachs – We make money the old fashioned way – fraud.