Home > Uncategorized > Risk-shifting, BP and those nasty enviros; or, why does Lew Rockwell feel sorry for BP?

Risk-shifting, BP and those nasty enviros; or, why does Lew Rockwell feel sorry for BP?

[I that note my subsequent BP posts can be found here]

I refer to Lew Rockwell‘s May 5, 2010 piece, “Feel Sorry for BP?”


Lew, I largely agree with your criticism of government but some of your piece is simply confused.

1. “It should be obvious that BP is by far the leading victim, but I’ve yet to see a single expression of sadness for the company and its losses.”

BP is the leading “victim”? Victim of what/who? Sure, they’re a target (1) for all manner of evil people whose livelihoods or enjoyment of their property or common property are directly or indirectly affected by the spill, (2) for evil enviro groups (relatively well-off citizens who profess to care about how well/poorly government manages the use of “common resources” by resource extraction industries), and (3) for evil governments and politicians looking to enhance their own authority/careers. But these are all a consequence of the accident, and not a cause of it. Has BP been defrauded, tricked or strong-armed into drilling anywhere? Is BP the “victim” of its own choices?

Even if one concedes that some criticisms of BP will be unfair, how can BP possibly be cast as the LEADING victim – as opposed to all of the others whose livelihoods or property are drastically affected by this incident, which they had no control over whatsoever?

2. “The incident is a tragedy for BP and all the subcontractors involved. It will probably wreck the company”

The incident will certainly be costly for the firms involved, but the firms will survive the death of employees, and there is certainly very little risk indeed that BP will be “wrecked” by the spill. Far from it; it is unlikely that BP will even bear the principal costs of cleanup efforts, much less the economic damages to third parties that federal law apparently caps at $75 million.

Have you not heard of “INSURANCE”? A little thinking (and Googling) would tell you that BP (and its subcontractors) has plenty of it. To the extent BP is NOT insured, it has ample capability to self-insure, unlike all of the fishermen, oystermen and those in the tourist industry who are feeling significant impacts. Insurers will bear the primary burdemn, not BP.

3. “we might ask who is happy about the disaster: 1. the environmentalists, with their fear mongering and hatred of modern life”

Sorry, but this is perverse: enviros might feel that they have been proven right – and you might be annoyed that they can make such a claim – but they certainly aren’t “happy” with any of the loss of life, damage to property or livelihoods of the little guy (or of bigger property owners), or to a more pristine marine environment that they value.

“Hatred of modern life”? Surely any clear-thinking Austrian can see that, just as Austrians hate our modern kleptocratic, incompetent and moral-hazard-enabling government, many enviros are relatively well-off people who dislike how “modern life” seems to take for granted the way government-ordered “capitalism” enables a systemic shifting of risks from manufacturers to those downwind and downstream, and to all who enjoy what remains of commons or government-owned property.

Haven’t Walter Block, Roy Cordato, Murray Rothbard and others written about this? Or do “good” Austrians these days simply hate government, but love big corporations and banks, and the way government enables them to shift risks to the rest of us?

Your projection of happiness at damages to common resources/private property and hatred of modern life is especially perverse, given your own explicit recognition that government ownership/mismanagement of commons, and setting of limits on liability, both skew the incentives BP faces to avoid damage, and limit the ability of others (resource users and evil enviros) to directly protect or negotiate their own interests. Why is the negative role played by government any reason to bash others who use or care about the “commons”?

We have seen Austrians – sympathetic to the costs to real people in the rest of the economy – rightly call for an end to a fiat currency, central banking and to moral-hazard-enabling deposit insurance and oversight of banks. In an April 9 post by Kevin Dowd on the financial crisis, we even had a call “to remove limited liability: we should abolish the limited-liability statutes and give the bankers the strongest possible incentives to look after our money properly” – but Dowd’s comments simply echoed in the Sounds of Silence. Why do you and others refuse to look at the risk-shifting and moral hazard that is implicit in the very grant of a limited liability corporate charter – not only in banking, but in oil exploration and other parts of the economy?


4. “The abstraction called the “ecosystem” — which never seems to include mankind or civilization — has done far less for us than the oil industry, and the factories, planes, trains, and automobiles it fuels.”

Frankly, this is nonsense. Austrians understand that focussing on the “ecosystem” is often an unhelpful abstraction and distraction from the fact that there are competing and conflicting interests held by people in resources that are not effectively owned or managed. The Austrian focus is on how to enable those with conflicting desires to coordinate their planning, not to engage in some muddle-headed balancing of collective “utility” that says one powerful group of users is “right”, so other claimants should be scoffed at and chased away.

And the “ecosystem” is what gives us air to breathe, water, food and a host of other things. Do you really mean to say these are relatively unimportant?

5. “the environmentalists went nuts yet again, using the occasion to flail a private corporation and wail about the plight of the “ecosystem,” which somehow managed to survive and thrive after the Exxon debacle.”

Seems to me your “facts” about the damage done by Exxon Valdez to the “environment” – including the small segments used by by man – and recovery/compensation are basically counterfactual:



Further, it seems you don’t have any real clue as to the escalating damage that man is doing to our shared ocean “commons”. These two TED talks might help open your eyes:



6. Finally, like BP, you have understated the degree of the oil leakage; BP initially estimated 1000 bpd, but later agreed with estimates by others that the leak is at least about 25,000 bpd, with risks of an even larger blowout.

Here’s to hoping for greater insight and more productive engagement from LvMI.

A lurking hater of mankind 😉


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