The Gulf Spill and the Hidden Vice of Capitalism

Here is one aspect of the Gulf spill no one seems to be talking about. It concerns the same thing that conservatives commentators, libertarian journals, and economists seldom take into consideration: Persons in the upper management of large corporations are not necessarily very intelligent and few are well-educated. That is the hidden vice of capitalism. For once, I am speaking as an expert. (Go ahead, check my vita linked to this blog (pdf) and then, re-check the facts on Google. Make my day!)

The BP-caused oil spill – going on for more of a month as I write – is also a public relations disaster for the corporation. As I said earlier (“The Louisiana Oil Disaster?” Posted 5/21/10), we are still missing the moving photographs of thousands of dead, soiled aquatic birds. There is in and around Plaquemines parish a group of stake-holders that is becoming increasingly vocal: The fishermen. I heard some on NPR on 5/25/10 complaining that BP has mostly ignored their wishes to “volunteer” to help. It sounded true and it sounded incredible to me.

Whatever happens, BP is going to be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars, possibly for more than a billion dollars. The fishermen whose livelihood and whose future appears to be threatened by BP’s negligence number in the hundreds. I doubt that there are a thousand of them altogether. At the risk of sounding cynical, I will say that they are the only easily identifiable group of human victims who tug at ordinary Americans’ hearts. It’s easy to imagine that most Louisiana fishermen don’t have a doctorate in solar energy science, for instance; it’s easy to recognize that few can readily switch to another occupation. That they may want to transmit their legacy to their children is also understandable from an emotional standpoint. Finally, the tens of millions of American who fish recreationally will have no trouble grasping that the Louisiana fishermen may love their occupation and the lifestyle that goes with it. I am skeptical myself about the extensiveness of the damage. I don’t hope it will become Obama’s Katrina. Yet my heart goes out to those unknown fishermen deprived of both livelihood and, it seems right now, of a future. Continue reading