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A handy list of TT posts on BP, the Tragedy of the Government-Owned Commons, Corporations and Oil Serfdom

June 18th, 2010 No comments

For a preceding post, I put together an index to my posts to date, and  thought it might be useful to bump it up to a more neasily accessible stand-alone post.

In case anyone has missed it, I’ve done quite a bit of posting on the BP problem, in a manner intended to be fruitful (and not simply a noodge). Here are my posts, in chronological order:

Risk-shifting, BP and those nasty enviros (a response to Lew Rockwell)

Poor statists! If we close our eyes tightly enough, we can see clearly that Corporations are innocent VICTIMS, of governments that foist on them meaningless grants like limited liability & IP, and of malevolent, grasping citizens

Sheldon Richman doesn’t feel sorry for BP, either

Corporations uber Alles: Conveniently inconsistent on “abstractions” like “the environment”, Austrians overlook their preference for “corporations” over individuals,& their lack of interest in problem-solving

Persons-R-Us? Here’s someone’s interesting thought experiment: “What If BP Were A Human Being?”

Does it make any sense to treat corporations as “persons”, given the differences in incentives structures?

As BP’s oil spills into one of those inconvenient “ecosystems”, now even Reason TV rants about “dying oceans”

Time-out for some light humor on BP’s “ecosystem”: The BP Oil Spill Re-Enacted By Cats in 1 Minute!

Who’s at the short end of the stick when Government “Play[s] Fast and Loose with Civilization” in the Gulf of Mexico?

Ed Dolan on Other People’s Money: Government, Oil Spills, Financial Crises & Limited Liability

Scott Sumner misses government role in “sh*t happens”; epitomizes discussions of BP/offshore oil development

Kevin Carson says, “In a Truly Free Market, BP Would Be Toast”

More useful discussion by Carson, both on BP’s fate in a free market, and on the inept, feckless and captured regulatory state

Matt Yglesias, like many Austrians, misses the role of government in “Agency Problems and Corporate Misconduct”

A BP Reader: statist corporations, “the environment” and the Tragedy of the Government-Owned/-Managed Commons

Sheldon Richman joins Gene Callahan in naively arguing that, IF man’s activities are responsible for climate change, we need not government but simply louder and more obnoxious enviros

As Callahan and Richman laud consumer/moral pressure on polluters, others tell us a BP boycott is stupid

Rand Paul: a caricature of libertarian views on energy

BP: Unless we are to get lost in legal fictions, like Harry Shearer we must look beyond the shareholder curtain

Such a big crisis, yet so few words? Scratching my head over sporadic, thin drive-by postings at LvMI on our growing BP/Gulf disaster

Oil-Serfs-R-Us or the Tragedy of the Government-Owned Commons: the puny Lousianna “Shrimp King” humbled by BP & the Feds

“Economic insight and analysis”? Statist voicepiece WSJ headlines Broken Window Fallacy nonsense: Oil Spill May End Up Lifting GDP Slightly!

Sad: in a numbskull post, “libertarian” Ron Bailey touts cost-benefit analysis as justification for offshore oil drilling, ignores issues of who benefits, who loses & who decides

On ocean drilling, it’s time for Ron Bailey, oil flack (and other libertarians), to meet Ron Bailey, “tragedy of the commons” guru and to stand up for the Oil Serfs

The Eve of Destruction: Excellent post on how Government and statist corporations like BP are stifling community responses to the unfolding Gulf disaster

Disturbing news/views on the manageability of the BP gusher

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Oil-Serfs-R-Us or the Tragedy of the Government-Owned Commons: the puny Lousianna "Shrimp King" humbled by BP & the Feds

June 18th, 2010 No comments

Yes, another BP post!

The Guardian ran a story last weeks that illustrated some of the human costs of BP’s oil debacle. Lew Rockwell and Stephan Kinsella insist  that the legal fiction known as “BP” is the largest “victim”, but I find their moral clarity rather obtuse, if not perverted.

As men live and work in communities and make their livelihoods in coordinated activities, I’m not sure I agree with Stephan Kinsella’s insistence (in responding to my arguments that state-grants of limited liability to shareholders are unjustifiable and have significant pernicious consequences) that our focus in measuring responsibility must always be on individuals; I do, however, agree that such an examination may be quite helpful – even as I note how Lew, Stephan and others ignore their own prescription when rushing to defend massive, faceless organizations like “BP”, or when fulminating about evil, man-hating  (and corporate-funded) “enviro-fascists”.

With that in mind, I ran across the following article in The Guardian last week that presents human face of what “BP” (and its dirty partnership with the federal and state governments who have deprived users of natural resources of any rights to control such resources) has wrought in the Gulf (my emphasis):

BP oil spill ruined my life, says Louisiana shrimp king; Dean Blanchard’s firm used to account for 11% of the US shrimp supply. Now, he is reduced to supplying fuel and water to BP clean-up crews

(Susan Goldenberg, June 11)

Of all the folks in Louisiana spoiling for a fight with Tony Hayward, none perhaps brings more gusto to the challenge than Dean Blanchard, the local shrimp king.

The outer walls of the trailer office of his seafood empire are plastered with homemade signs reading “BP=Bayou Polluter” and “President Obama: BP took my business and my money.”

The frontroom is painted shrimp pink, and Blanchard is working himself up imagining what he would like to do to the BP chief executive if he ever got the chance: fist fight, public wrestling match, jail time?

“He took away everything I love most in the world. I am going to hunt that son of a bitch down like a ‘coon,” he said. “He wants his life back after all he has done to us? The hell with him.”

Then he speculates about peeing in the Queen’s water fountain. “What do you think would happen to me? I’d go to jail for that, and it would be relatively minor environmental damage.”

He may not immediately look the part in his faded shorts and blue vest and the jumble of buildings around the docks, but in the shrimp world, Blanchard is Hayward.

BP ranks in the top three oil companies; Blanchard says his are the third biggest shrimp docks in the world, with some 6,000 fishermen bringing him their catch. His company accounts for about 11% of the US shrimp supply.

In the pre-spill era, that would have put Hayward and Blanchard on near equal footing, he reckons. Oil and shrimp were the two poles of existence in this part of Louisiana. Offshore rigs and refinery tanks are as ubiquitous as fishing trawlers.

Blanchard had a foot in both worlds. One grandfather got rich on shrimp, establishing the business he now operates near BP’s local command centre. The other grandfather got rich from oil.

Now, with the gusher on the ocean floor and fishing banned in much of the Gulf, there is just oil clean-up. At the Sand Dollar marina, redeployed fishermen and shrimpers, hauling containment boom through the water instead of nets, share space with the coastguard and national guard.

The money is only a fraction of what it would be for a successful shrimp season and 2010 was shaping up to be a banner year.

“Every 10 years, when you get a cold winter, you get a really good shrimp crop,” Blanchard said. “We were licking our chops.”

On a good run, a big shrimp boat could earn $1m (£686,000) a day. The going rate for fishing for oil is $3,000, less for smaller boats – not a lot once divided among captain and crew. Several of the men say they have yet to be paid.

Blanchard says his losses are on a far grander scale. “I’ve lost $15m worth of sales in the last 50 days. That would have been $1m in my pocket,” he said.

A few of the big freezer boats are still going out, but Blanchard says he is reduced to selling BP fuel and water for its contract clean-up crews, and renting out dock space. By his terms, it’s a pittance and he has no idea when he will get back to work.

“What I make off of BP I could make in eight hours,” he said.

He is equally scathing of BP’s oil clean-up strategy. “I could take two 32oz Big Gulp cups from the 7-Eleven and do more than what they are doing,” he said.

Blanchard is far from the only angry man in town. The mayor, David Camardelle, was in Washington this week to testify before Congress. He nearly broke down. “The shrimp died. It’s a ghost town. The boom doesn’t work,” he said.

Around the corner from his operations, a family has erected 101 simple white crosses memorialising what has been lost to the spill.

There is sea food industry, with crosses for tuna, shrimp and oyster catches, but also “beach sunrises”, “seafood gumbo”, “redfish rodeo”, “family time”, “porch sitting” and “dog on beach”.

And for all his bluster, Blanchard is overwhelmed by the loss.

“I think I did everything right, and here this idiot came and didn’t know how to run his business and put me out of my business. People used to respect me in this town. Now I wake up in the morning and I don’t know what to do.”

I’ve yet to run across an LvMI post at all sympathetic to people to like Dean Blanchard, much less one in which a poster bothered to put a thinking cap on to make any useful suggestions, such as an insistence on rolling out “catch rights” for fishermen, and rights to veto or monitor petroleum exploration and development.

I note that I have already posted extensively on oceans/fisheries management; for interested readers here are links to some of those posts:

More later.

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BP: Unless we are to get lost in legal fictions, like Harry Shearer we must look beyond the shareholder curtain

June 17th, 2010 No comments

Another BP post!

Rand Paul might not be a good libertarian, but satirist Harry Shearer, in his piece “A Word to BP Shareholders“, asks exactly the right questions:

The media, and the Prime Minister, have also been insistent about the economic importance of BP to … Britain. The figure floating around suggests that a significant amount of pension-fund income in Britain each year comes from BP. Although it’s not British, you recall. And then they point out that almost 49 percent of BP shares are owned by Americans, and that BP grew to its mammoth size by merging with Amoco, an American company, mainly to gain control of Amoco’s operations in, of all places, the Gulf of Mexico.

So, okay, a message to BP shareholders, be they Brits, Americans or none of the above. You benefited through the years from the profits generated by the company which accumulated 97 precent of the fines levied against oil companies for safety and environmental violations (not counting Exxon Valdez compensation). You gained financially from the damage your company inflicted on its workers and its surroundings. Now your company, following those same policies, has created enormous economic and ecological damage, and you are concerned about the impact that unlimited liability for that damage would have on your dividend and on the ability of your company to avoid bankruptcy. Question: how many of you complained to management about the policies and practices from which you benefited all these years? Or do you just complain when these policies and practices inflict profound economic and other costs on others, for which your company may be held responsible? Did you complain when management obviously low-balled flow estimates out of the well for at least a month, so as to minimize damage perceived by the potential jury pool?

Or, as seems more likely, are you happy to privatize the gains and socialize the losses?

It seems to me that libertarians should be leading the way in understanding how corporations – through state grants of zero shareholder liaibility and other attributes – serve as key instruments of our elites in privatizing gains and socializing losses, and further in fuelling battles to use government to rein in corprations or to attain benefits not avaialble in free marklets. 

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As Callahan and Richman laud consumer/moral pressure on polluters, others tell us a BP boycott is stupid

June 17th, 2010 No comments

Another BP post!

I noted in a post yesterday that Sheldon Richman has recently suggested that the best, nonstatist way to deal with climate change is “through a voluntary social movement that promoted an ethic [of] encouraging and pressuring people and firms to cease their destructive activities.”

 Likewise, Gene Callahan has argued that “One way negative externalities can be addressed without turning to state coercion is public censure of individuals or groups widely perceived to be flouting core moral principles or trampling the common good, even if their actions are not technically illegal. Large, private companies and prominent, wealthy individuals are generally quite sensitive to public pressure campaigns.”

Leaving aside Gene’s own troubles in dealing with his telephone company, it strikes me as a bit ironic to see libertarians over at the LvMI blog throwing cold water on the idea of channelling citizen outrage over the BP oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico into a boycott of BP. J. Grayson Lilburne has a post up to the effect that, because BP has soooo much cleaning up to do, those who clamor for a boycott of BP products, gasoline franchises etc. are acting against their own best interests.

And one commenter even suggested it was “irrational” to ever boycott a corporation –  because corporations are not people, and never learn! Right, because we face a corporate world, it is our duty as citizens to blunt our silly “emotional” responses. Thank good those enviro-fascists are just people and not corporations, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to hate them!

Guard June 15, 2010 at 12:59 am

Boycott BP, which is a corporation. The CEOs will have to retire early with their golden parachutes and the oilfield workers will have to get jobs elsewhere. That’ll teach BP a lesson!
Is it just me or does anyone else see anything irrational about anthropomorphizing a legal fantasy?

 I left various comments on the thread; I copy portoins here:

TokyoTom June 16, 2010 at 7:25 am

Grayson, while there’s a logic to your argument, it ignores several things – the least of which being BP’s ability to pay damages and cleanup by selling assets, the limited likelihood that BP will be held fully legally to account for this still unfolding (and masked) disaster, and the disaster fund government has already amassed from taxes.

The chief point, of course, that it is entirely understandable that many people – being humans and not corporations – are enraged by the “behavior” of the legal fiction we call “BP”. Any effective libertarian approach to this mess will expressly recognize the validity of peoples’ anger and find ways to productively channel it.

The kind of dissing that we see in some comments here of such emotions or the motivations of those injured is something that will certainly warm the cockles of a statist’s heart, but is counterproductive and has no part in Austrian thinking.

Quite to the contrary, to avoid further statism, Austrians are calling for a chanelling of moral outrage. See Gene Callahan and Sheldon Richman here:

Of course, Austrians with their thinking caps on can also come up with ways to undo the damage that the current system does, and improve freedom and resource management. See, e.g.,




TokyoTom June 16, 2010 at 6:59 am

Michael, again well said, if a bit overstated.

Except for dunderheads, Austrians recognize that there ARE real “ecosystems” and physical and other (communities and informal institutions) commons in which we all are raised and live. And all understand that we must all contribute actively in maintaining the vitality of those communities.

It’s just that many prefer culture wars against evil enviro-fascists than honest engagement on the ways that government ownership and management of the commons favors statist corporations and leads to fights over the wheel.

More at my BP-related and other posts:


TokyoTom June 16, 2010 at 7:09 am

Walt, I agree about “punishment”, but the fact of the matter is that there is no way in hell that those injured will ever be fully compensated. The whole Gulf population risks becoming oil serfs.

While I sympathize with shareholders, it should not go unnoticed how the use of the state shields shareholders from possible legal liability and certainly severs them from moral culpability. But what are corporations for, anyway?

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More useful discussion by Carson, both on BP’s fate in a free market, and on the inept, feckless and captured regulatory state

June 9th, 2010 3 comments

Another BP post!

Both of Kevin Carson’s most recent posts at Center for a Stateless Society are worth a read.

BP’s Fate in a Free Market, Part Two

How’s All That Progressive Regulatory Stuff Workin’ Out For Ya?

In particular, Kevin’s “Part 2” post – and the comments to it and posts by others whom he references – are quite thoughtful. Below are some points that I think deserve particular attention (emphasis mine):

Shawn Wilbur, a leading scholar in the history of the individualist/mutualist tradition in addition to being an anarchist himself, agrees that oil companies like BP would be far less able to externalize costs on the public in a free market order, absent such privileges as caps on liability.  But he goes on to raise the issue of the “many kinds of value and interest” that are not adequately represented by markets:

“After all, sea turtles and brown pelicans don’t get any more of a vote in the market than they do in elections or campaign contributions. Private property conventions tend to establish a separation of interests not reflected in, or respected by, the circulatory systems of the biosphere …”

Gary Chartier, a market anarchist professor at La Sierra University, commented that since sea turtles lack any means of effectively asserting or defending rights on their own behalf, their interests in any system — whether under statism, market anarchy, or any other kind of anarchy — depend entirely on the existence of human beings who identify those interests with their own.

I would add that the present system includes many structural barriers that prevent humans who value the interests of other species or of the ecosystem from expressing that valuation in the marketplace.  For example, federal lease auctions allow only companies from the relevant industry (lumber, mining, etc.) to bid on access to federal land.  That means conservationists who value holding land out of use are banned from the bidding process, that the winning bid is hence lower than it likely would otherwise have been, and that resource extraction is artificially profitable.  Federal preemption of vacant land means, likewise, that the privileged access granted by the federal government is uncontested by other previous claimants.

Were vacant land not preempted by the state and then granted on a privileged basis, then the oil, mining and lumber companies could establish legitimate homestead rights only over the land that they were capable of effectively developing and fully prepared to economically exploit at any given time.  In the meantime, other groups might have homesteaded significant parcels of land with the intention of conserving  it.  As Wilbur himself states in the comments under his post, “active conservation” — like “a wildlife corridor, or critical wetland, or scenic area” — is “pretty obviously a use.”  In a free market regime with open homesteading, lumber and other extractive industries would have to buy out such competition at whatever price the latter demanded, if they were willing to sell at all.

As I mentioned in another post, one reason the ecosystem in West Virginia has had so little protection against mountaintop removal, is that the property rights of small owners had so little protection against expropriation, and the surrounding communities had been robbed of so much of their common law protection against tortious action by the mining companies against their air and water.  As chronicled in the movie “Matewan,” the first white homesteaders in West Virginia — who mostly lacked formal title to their land, having settled when government was still quite irregular — were later expropriated by the mining companies, who could afford to buy both good lawyers and bad legislators.

I would observe that Austrians at LvMI routinely discount – if are not actively hostile to – the preferences that non-industrial users (and destested “enviros”) have regarding common or publicly-owned resources. This is clearly inconsistent with Austrian principles. Further, Austrians also generally – and wrongly – treat with scorn even the notion that there are commons assets – such as “ecosystems”  that are important and valuable. Austrians are wrong to have their thumb on the scale in the way that they do when determining how government favor should be bestowed; this tendency amounts to fairly consistent support for/defense of statist corporations.

Kevin is entirely correct that “the present system includes many structural barriers that prevent humans who value the interests of other species or of the ecosystem from expressing that valuation in the marketplace.” So let me connect a link that somehow Kevin has overlooked in the context of the BP oilwell blowout and spill: the chief structural barrier here is the US government, which “owns” and “manages” the Gulf out to the 200 mile limit (there is moderate state control out a few miles), and which prevents indigenous and commercial fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers and conservationists from actually owning or directly managing any of the resources or ecosytems on which their livelihoods depend or that they otherwise value, and which is favors and is financially beholden to the oil industry.

See, for example:

I think Kevin that is also correct about mountaintop removal, which involves a frequently flagrantly corrupt use of the state to subvert common-law protections, as I have commented a number of times.

I also highly recommend the post by Shawn Wilbur that Kevin references; I may comment separately on it.

And the following comment on the state grant of limited liability to corporate shareholders is consistent with points I have made any number of times:

Brian Cantin on Jun 7, 2010, 9:53 pm: [I hope Brian does not object]

Without the government, a limited liability corporation would not have the protections they enjoy today. The corporation could gain limited liability if it is obtained via contract. Why anyone would sign a contract allowing a corporation limited liability is another question.

However, in the case of a tort, the owners of offending corporation would not only be possibly liable for the all of the assets of the corporation, they could also be personally liable down to their last farthing.

Strict liability is a great inducement to careful practices.

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Scott Sumner misses government role in "sh*t happens"; epitomizes discussions of BP/offshore oil development

June 9th, 2010 No comments

Another BP post!

1. Over on his The Money Illusion blog, Chicago-school economist Scott Sumner has a curiously uninsightful post up on the BP oil spill: “Stuff Happens“. Perhaps some of my friendly enviro-hater readers here might like it, but I didn’t. I left the following comments (still pending approval as I copy them here) (emphasis added):

Scott, what you’re rather glaringly missing with your cost-benefit analysis – which blithely ignores the real face of “externalities” – is the institutional setting, which can be summed up as a tragedy of the government-owned and (rather expensively) mis-managed comonns.

Ed Dolan is exactly right about incentives problems facing BP and regulators, none of whom really directly own the downside risks, which instead are borne by fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers, the tourist industry, those who value wildlife and a clean environment, and those who consume what harvesters catch. Some of these are very marginalized communities, but all face tremendous difficulties organizing and expressing their interests effectively with respect to resources on which their very livelihoods may depend, but in which they have no ownership rights.

On the other hand, the oil industry are very powerful actors, very well organized and represented in the corridors of power and influence (remember Cheney’s secret energy meetings, and that BP was one of Obama’s largest donors?), and are adept at shifting risks to others (though self-damage is possible when catastrophic losses occur). As Ed Dolan rightly notes, this is built into their very nature as a result of the government grant of limited (zero) liability to shareholders, who have disincentives to monitoring too closely or to questioning whether profits come at the expense of others who – because of government ownership – have no effective voice regarding losses they bear.

It’s hard to feel much sympathy for either the oil cos or government in theis Avatar-like situation, but I don’t mean to castigate either as “evil”. Rather, we simply need to take a close look at the problems of Moral Hazard that our government interventions – from grants of limited liability, to government resource ownership and concomitant inept and occasionally management – have been fuelling.

Answers lie not in gross CBA analysis, but in letting resources users own the rights to manage and harvest wild resources (which would give them direct claims agains polluters), AND to determine when and where seabed resources are developed. (NOAA’s successful experiments with “catch rights” need to be vastly scaled up.) We would still have oil & gas development, but the fishermen would do a vastly better job of policing the oil companies – who would have to face other resource users with full incentives and abilities to protect their livelihoods. (Obversely, oil companies would also be better managers if they had control over the very valuable fish harvest rights in particular blocks, and would manage to in a way that would reflect such value.



Austrian-leaning Ed Dolan, whose recent post on Moral Hazard and agency issues I have just noted, joins in on the comment thread. 

Sadly, Sumner is not alone in paying little attention to those who are at the short-end of the messy oil stick.

2. Liberal blogger Matt Yglesias has a useful blog post up in response to Scott; unfortunately his comment thread has fallen into blind, clear-sighted partisan bickering.

3. I see Richard Posner now has a similar blind piece of blather up at the Washington Post: “From the oil spill to the financial crisis, why we don’t plan for the worst”; more on Posner perhap’s later.

4. Sadly/fortunately, for those of you who haven’t seen or (or could use a little further diversion) this litle one-minute “BP kittens ” YouTube video does a better job than virtually all discussions I’ve seen in noting relevant agency and institutional failure issues.

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Who’s at the short end of the stick when Government "Play[s] Fast and Loose with Civilization" in the Gulf of Mexico?

June 8th, 2010 No comments

Another BP post! [links updated] I have just stumbled across  by Jeffrey Tucker’s May 27, 2010 post on the Mises Economics Blog regarding the Obama administration’s decision, in response to the BP mess in the Gulf, to suspend consideration of applications to drill in the Arctic.

1.  I was inspired to leave a few comments, which I copy here [a link or two added; my apologies for the bolding, but I’ve been out-witted by the html]:

TokyoTom June 8, 2010 at 5:14 am

“But what strikes me as just how willy nilly the state acts toward the goods and services that fuel civilization itself.” “rarely been more obvious, day to day, that the machinery of the state, while pretending to be the caretaker of mother earth, only destroys hope for real human beings.”

Jeffrey, how true – but how ironic and sad that, like Lew, you only look at the potential impact on US consumers (and businesses) of Obama’s (much, much, MUCH delayed) action to suspend consideration of applications to drill in the Arctic (and now elsewhere on the OCS), but ignore the PRESENT and very real impact of incompetent and corrupt government management on all of the people who live in, on and draw their LIVELIHOODS from the Gulf of Mexico commons that are now being despoiled by the BP spill. I mean, aren’t losses to fishermen and others in the Gulf region staring us in the face?

See, e.g., the reports here on marginalized fishermen it’s a shame that, rather than float ideas on how to end the Tragedy of the Government-Owned/-Managed Commons – such as expanding fishermen’s rights to manage Gulf resources – you see fit to suggest that the real solution lies in more Avatar-like Drill, Baby, Drill! resource exploitation under the current and obviously flawed rules. As for the rest of you, generally my disappointment with shallow, partisan thinking continues. Perhaps a cut and paste from a recent post will serve?

I continue to scratch my head on the knee-jerk reactions by Austrian-libertarians on problems regarding management of common resources: are not our physical and electronic communities commons? Don’t commons support many people directly, and us all indirectly? Aren’t there huge and obvious commons-related problems that stem from government ownership and “management” of resources – be they federal lands, the seas, our fiat currency, or our financial institutions and publicly-listed companies? Don’t we all know that government gets in the way, frustrating the ability of people with differing preferences to search for and reach mutual accommodations, and instead putting them at loggerheads in zero-sum situations? The unbecoming reflexive hostility indicates that even those who think they have their thinking caps on cannot see past the partisan conflict that government itself generates. Kind regards, your resident Austrian misanthrope, Tom

2. For those who want to put their thinking caps on, I note that I have a number of posts on managing commons resources – see my posts on Nobel-Prizewinner Elinor Ostrom for starts – and on fisheries and on federally-owned oil and gas resources like the OCS and ANWR. They might provide a little grist for the mill.

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As BP's oil spills into one of those inconvenient "ecosystems", now even Reason TV rants about "dying oceans"

June 4th, 2010 No comments

Another BP post!

I continue to scratch my head on the knee-jerk reactions by Austrian-libertarians on problems regarding management of common resources: are not our physical and electronic communities commons? Don’t commons support many people directly, and us all indirectly? Aren’t there huge and obvious commons-related problems that stem from government ownership and “management” of resources – be they federal lands, the seas, our fiat currency, or our financial institutions and publicly-listed companies?

Don’t we all know that government gets in the way, frustrating the ability of people with differing preferences to search for and reach mutual accommodations, and instead putting them at loggerheads in zero-sum situations?

The unbecoming reflexive hostility  indicates that even those who think they have their thinking caps on cannot see past the partisan conflict that government itself generates.

But I dither.  Allow me to gather here for interested readers some scraps of information regarding the state of our oceans.

1.  From my initial response to Lew Rockwell‘s “Feel Sorry for BP? ” post:

Lew: “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.”

Me: 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:

2.  While I think this understates the size of the BP spill, it is still a useful explanation for how the spill trauma differs from natural oil seeps:
The Oil Drum | Natural Oil Seeps and the Deepwater Horizon Disaster: A Comparison of Magnitudes
3.  Those radical enviros over seem to share my concerns; they have put up a new video on June 2 with the alarmist title: “How To Save A Dying Ocean“.  It was written, produced and hosted by Ted Balaker. Nick Gillespie cross-posted it to Big, where there is another comment thread. In both places, readers/viewers seem not to have noticed that environmentalists are now solid supporters of privatizing fisheries.
Here’s a chunk of the description:

The Gulf of Mexico continues to gush oil just as a whaling controversy threatens to land Australia and Japan in international court for killing protected species. Meanwhile, another less-publicized but arguably more cataclysmic oceanic disaster continues to worsen.

Overfishing threatens to destroy most of the world’s fisheries within a matter of decades. …

“Everything in the ocean from the great whales to dolphins to plankton is being jeopardized,” Psihoyos tells Reason.tV. “We’re raping and harvesting the ocean unsustainably.”

Overfishing “could mean the end of certain species,” agrees UC-Santa Barbara’s Costello. He points out that about a third of the world’s fisheries have already collapsed, and many more are heading toward the same fate. Costello says the world’s fisheries are in such bad shape because of the same reason public restrooms are typically foul places: “Nobody owns them. Nobody has the incentive to keep them up.”

One proven solution is a system called “catch share,” in which fishermen have the right to a certain share of the total catch of a type of fish. This form of ownership gives fishermen an incentive to make sure fish populations grow, and according to Costello’s worldwide research, it’s the only thing that seems to work.

Environmentalists are often suspicious of the profit motive, but from Alaska to New Zealand, market forces have been harnessed not for plunder but for preservation. Fishermen like the system because they make money, and environmentalists like it because it supports sustainable practices. Expanding the catch share system may well be the best way to save a dying ocean.

Here’s the video – which is worth a look:

4.  I note that I have already posted extensively on oceans/fisheries management; for interested readers here are links to some of those posts:

5. Finally, one wonders whether, if fishermen in the Gulf of Mexico had clear “catch rights” or similar property rights, and had control over oil gas exploration and development decisions, they would not have done a good deal better in overseeing BP, and whether BP would not have been quite a bit more careful.( Likewise – if BP owned the Gulf, and received revenues from permitting fish harvests!)

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Sociopaths-R-Us? Here’s someone’s interesting thought experiment: "What If BP Were A Human Being?"

May 17th, 2010 No comments

Further to my preceding BP posts regarding the gaps between (i) Austrian insistence that we focus on individual rights and plan formation and (ii) the penchant of some (many!) libertarians to support corporations while bashing citizens groups which are unhappy with the impacts of corporate actions on others, I stumbled across the above-captioned essay by Bruce Dixon, Editor of The Black Commentator (May 12, 2010, AlterNet).

I here are some liberal quotes (no pun intended; emphasis added):

If BP were a person it would be a career criminal, a pathological liar and an international serial killer with a rap sheet several times the size of the Chicago Yellow Pages.

The third largest oil company in the world, BP was born in 1909 as the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, and was partly owned by the British government. Its headquarters offices are in the UK.. So if it were a flesh and blood person, far and away the wealthiest person on earth, and a British subject. Assuming that our imaginary human BP got into the oil business at the youthful age of say, 20, and stayed at it for just over a century, BP the human being would be closing in on his 121st birthday. Damned few of us will see triple digits, and none of us that reach even our 60s and 70s retain the level of energy, or often of interest that we possessed only a couple decades before. A normal 120 year old human will have more than a few ailments and bodily systems on the brink of failure. But not our human BP. If BP were a person, it would be immensely, almost inconceivably wealthy AND perhaps immortal. ….Among flesh and blood humans, there are no precise analogs to what corporations do when they buy and sell each other. The acts of matrimony and cannibalism perhaps comes closest, with consenting or non-consenting spouses and/or victims, along with assumption of the spouse and/or victim’s assets. Among humans, marriage is a reason to change one’s name too. Another reason to change one’s name is simply to escape one’s old record and reputation. Among humans, that’s called assuming an alias. So our immortal, immensely wealthy human BP may have been married several times, perhaps several times at once, could be a cannibal, albeit with sometimes willing victims, and operates under several aliases.

You don’t have to look too long and hard to understand why a flesh and blood BP would need aliases. The objective of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company was to monopolize the rich oil resources of what is now Iran. Among the many illegal acts it committed toward that end was a £5,000 bribe to future British PM Winston Churchill back in 1923 to lobby for its interests A secular nationalist and democratically elected Iranian government kicked BP out in the early 1950s. BP turned its lobbying to Washington DC, and in 1953, helped persuade the U.S. to overthrow the Democratic Iranian government and installed its puppet, the Shah, popularly known as the Crowned Cannibal. The Shah, in the course of killing millions and stealing billions, invited BP back, and it stayed until 1979, when the Shah was overthrown.

In a century of doing business, BP has been implicated in bribery of public officials, grand theft, fomenting unjust wars, of murder, torture, plunder, environmental destruction, and money laundering in and between scores of countries on every continent except Antarctica. If BP were a person it would be a career criminal, a pathological liar and an international serial killer with a rap sheet several times the size of the Chicago Yellow Pages.

Given his (we’re reasonably sure a human BP would not be a woman) global reach and proclivity to corrupt public officials around the world, and past record, BP the human being would be a flight risk. It would be indicted for murder, or at least negligent homicide in the deaths of the last eleven oil workers to die when its rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. U.S. law doesn’t have death penalties for corporations, but the federal government, and most or all of the first wave of Gulf Coast states where the oil slick will wash up do. We’re talking Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

The assets of corporations are protected against lawsuits of all kinds. BP and other oil industry giants long ago paid for the insertion of provisions into the U.S. federal code that limit their liability in the case of oil spills to a mere $75 million dollars. But there are no limits on the liability that individually held wealth can occur. A human BP, even though 120 years old and immensely wealthy, could see all his assets around the world frozen, would be imprisoned without bail, and might be on trial for his life.

But of course the real BP is a corporation, and death penalties, like laws in general are for humans, not corporations.

In the single instance of the blown rig at Deepwater Horizon, BP had a deal with the U.S. federal government that excused it from paying any royalties, and subcontracted the building and operation of the rig to Halliburton, Cameron and other corporations. If they too were human beings like our hypothetical human BP, we could add “conspiracy to commit” and “conspiracy to conceal” in front of all the previously mentioned offenses, and the lot of them along with many of their favorite government officials could be rounded up.

When it suits their purposes, employees and mouthpieces of various transnational firms hasten to assure us that “corporations are people too.” In a sense this is certainly true. Despite what some bible thumping fundamentalists will tell you, corporations were not ordained by the Almighty. Corporations are legal fictions. They are artificial shields under which we agree to allow a handful of extremely wealthy people to rule over the rest us, and plunder the planet and its people at will, just as centuries ago most of the humans who mattered agreed that kings, queens and nobly born, the “people of quality” had the god given right to ride roughshod over humanity.

Ultimately, people woke up, rose up, and revoked those privileges. How long will it be before we revoke the lawless privileges of corporations, before we limit their immunity, curtail their immortality, and rein in their immorality?. How long can we, and the planet on which we depend for life itself, wait? Is there every a line that cannot be crossed? Where is it? What will it take?

Apart from Mr. Dixon’s questions, it seems to me one must ask – does it make any difference, either to the broader statist environment that we find ourselves, or to the behavior of BP, that BP is a corporation that is granted unlimited life and whose shareholders are excluded from any personal liability for corporate acts? I think that it undeniably matters, and quite deeply.

Just as libertarian and other commentators have suggested that we need to insist that firms that engage in the banking business be partnerships with unlimited liability in order to control the moral hazard engendered by the current system, so too should libertarians insist on restoring personal responsibility and ending corporate limited liability. If we do so, we will certainly see much greater efforts by those who own and/or manage business enterprises to control risks and behave responsibly – which will take pressure off of spiralling calls for corrupt and inept governments to “do something”!

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Imagine reining in governments and the corporate Frankensteins they make

April 21st, 2015 No comments

[from a Facebook post.]

Governments, themselves largely unaccountable institutions guided and staffed by persons who are personally unaccountable, create corporate Frankensteins that are owned, guided and staffed by persons who are personally unaccountable.

When “accidents happen”, our Big Brother may either shrug or rush in to “protect” us some more — in ways that are sure to enhance the power of government and to create more regulations that will reduce competition (and thus favor the existing larger firms in a particular industry), while leaving each of us with LESS power to do anything personally or collectively to protect ourselves — in the case of the massive #BP Horizon blowout, remember how the Feds stopped gulf states and towns from laying out their own booms to limit damage, and stopped people from digging on public beaches to take oil samples?

Corporations, made by the state, are truly “The Health of the State”.

IMAGINE, however, (1) if business was conducted only in organizations whose owners retained potential personal liability (as a partnership, association, or corporation whose shareholders only partially pay-in their equity commitment) and lived adjacent to their riskiest businesses, and (2) if old tort doctrines allowing people whose persons/property were damaged by others’ pollution to enjoin/stop such practices were still respected. In this case, the personal skin in the game of owners/execs, face in the community, personal risk to liability, and agreements with insurers would incentivize all to greatly reduce risk — in a manner that EMPOWERS people in the community around the business operations.

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