Home > Political Philosophy and Current Events, Politics > How to Stop All Oil Spills – And Why the Government Has Never Done It

How to Stop All Oil Spills – And Why the Government Has Never Done It

To listen to the audio version, play the video below. To read the transcript, simply scroll down.

All right, friends. I’m supposed to be running a level-headed show here, but tonight, I am mad. I am very mad, because once again the demagogues are creating a racket by touting themselves as defenders against a real problem that Americans face and instead creating more of the same problem. It has now been 36 days since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill began, and there is no end in sight. Dozens of millions of gallons have already entered the Gulf, which is probably about how many dollars the news media and lawyers are making right now complaining and failing to produce any solution. Of course no solution has been found, because the government’s policies towards drilling ignore philosophy and human nature.

At every turn, at every new spike in pollution of the air and the sea by some careless mega-corporation, the federal government has responded by issuing greater regulation and tightening controls on industry in a racketeering attempt to say they did something. Better to pass an imperfect law than no law at all, right? But their strategy has never worked. There’s a million and ten ways for a company to pollute, accidentally or otherwise, and the nature of legislation is to be reactive. To stop pollution, we need policies that are proactive. We need to be able to anticipate catastrophic environmental damage before it occurs – not yell and legislate about it afterwards. The government cannot accomplish this. For the past century, it has been passing progressively more and more laws regulating businesses that deal directly with the environment, and yet oil spills keep happening, each one seemingly worse than the last. The polar ice caps are still melting, and the only response the feds have ever conceived is more barriers to entry in industry, more government-mandated inspections of rigs, and more taxing and spending. This has gradually increased the real cost of oil for middle class Americans and has never stopped corporations from inflicting collateral damage on the environment through misuse of communally-owned resources.

All of that, though, I have learned to begrudgingly accept. What has gotten me so enraged tonight is the fallacious sense of inevitability with which the whole ordeal is discussed. As soon as the extent of the damage of the spill came to light, the liberals immediately responded with their demands to punish the big, mean corporations for damaging our environment. They said we need more regulation and more government action against big business to show British Petroleum that they can’t just pollute our waters without some accountability. Then the conservatives replied with their predictable economic concerns. “Wait!”, they said. If you try to punish the oil companies by fining them and restricting their business, the cost will just roll over to consumers, raising the price of gas! Barriers to entry will reduce competition in the industry even further, and it will be more difficult for average Americans to maintain their standard of living. That’s the argument you hear – and you here it day in and day out. Take your pick, they say – either allow the corporate big wigs to wreak havoc on society and the planet without any accountability, or cripple the oil industry in regulation and let the American middle class take the hit anyway. And they give you those choices as if it is just natural – As if that’s just how things are supposed to be!

I am here to tell you that I don’t buy it. I don’t accept this dichotomy. The Republicans scream to protect the industry and the Democrats scream to protect the planet, and the result is that neither achieves any success. Government swoops in and does what it does, and when all is said and done, we keep having oil spills and the price of gas keeps going up. It is time for a philosophically different approach to drilling for oil. It is time to implement freedom and responsibility – to allow businesses to compete with one another in a free market to drive down the cost of oil while at the same time placing upon them the responsibility to maintain their own resources, free of pollution. Over the past century, we’ve had plenty of Democrats and plenty of Republicans take office and enact their plans to absolutely no avail. It is time for a new solution – the Libertarian solution.

In a Libertarian’s perspective, the Gulf oil spill is just one of millions of examples of what’s known as “The Tragedy of the Commons.” The tragedy goes like this: When individuals use resources that are owned by the community, it is in the interest of each individual to use the resources in a manner that is not in the interest of the community as a whole. The Commons gets depleted, because each person takes from them recklessly, conserving nothing for the future lest the others should get it first. To a Libertarian, the solution is self-evident: Do not have a Commons. When every individual actually owns a certain portion of the resources, it is in each person’s interest to conserve his own property, and he does not have the right to damage or intrude upon another person’s property.

What I am telling you here is that the only way to prevent oil spills is to privatize the oceans and release all government control of the oil industry. It isn’t hard to achieve. Simply auction off the waters in sections to whomever will develop them. Let the proceeds help pay off the federal debt. Each company or person that buys a section receives a deed to it just like land owners do. Then the protocol for polluting someone else’s waters is just as it would be dumping oil in your neighbor’s backyard: You can’t. If you do, your neighbor will sue you in a civil court.

In essence, what this will achieve is the complete freedom of the oil companies to compete amongst themselves to find the most efficient way of delivering oil to Americans cheaply while also internalizing 100% of the costs associated with pollution. By disincentivizing pollution instead of yelling about it, we will put an end to oil spills. No longer will companies be able to undertake careless practices and make tax-payers and their neighbors accept the consequences. There will be no more discussion of a “cap” for collateral damages; there will simply be no collateral damages. Anyone who commits an act of pollution will be taken to court by a complainant who will actually own property that suffered demonstrable damage. This contrasts sharply with our current system in which British Petroleum is essentially on trial against the government for crimes it allegedly committed against the whole planet. When all resources are in the hands of well-defined owners, there will be no more ambiguity of finger-pointing, no more argument about who hurt whom and how. Pollution will be unprofitable, plain and simple.

Perhaps you wonder, if this solution is so simple and effective, why it has not been tried before. The answer is just as obvious as freedom itself. Neither the government nor the corporations have any interest in adopting a policy of freedom and responsibility, so no such policy is ever considered. The concern that government regulation will harm big business is in itself a racket and a false source for angry punditry – government regulation is the source of big business. Does anyone know when was the last time that a new oil company was started? Of course you’ve never heard of a start-up in the oil industry making it big. The barriers to entry are insurmountable. The more the government legislates to try to save the environment, the more impossible they make it for anyone to get approved to start a new drilling project to compete against existing corporations. Through environmental demagoguery, they systematically reduce individual freedom. In doing so, the government creates an oligopoly through which all American industry is dependent upon a select few oil companies. These companies are in a position to demand whatever they want, because the American lifestyle cannot persist without oil. As such, they are never held truly accountable because to punish them as they deserve would cripple society – and so, there is no responsibility, either.

To privatize the oceans and regard them as resources to be used freely without causing damage to other people’s property would break the intimate relationship that corporate lobbyists have established with legislators. When legislators no longer interfere in business, corporate lobbyists no longer have any reason to win their favor. The billions of dollars spent on maintaining large legal departments and publicizing court cases to pressure legislators and raise public concern would no longer be necessary. The savings would roll over into lowering gas prices for you and me. The racket would end. We would stop seeing Congressmen and business executives speaking on the news every day about the ongoing controversies and the need for taking some unspecified action to calm everyone’s anger. Instead of shouting at bad behavior, we’d be disincentivizing it. True freedom and responsibility is the only way to end the tragedy.

Thank you for your time. The Worst-Case Scenario now has a Facebook page. Find out more on the Connections and Networking page.

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  1. Stephen
    June 21, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    How does privatizing ocean’s affect the fishing industry which strives on the ability to traverse large open waters? If they would have to purchase areas of water, would that create huge upfront costs for small business fishers? (who already have large upfront costs: boat, supplies, etc.)
    Would you also suggest a similar solution to air pollution?
    Do we privatize sections of air?

  2. Gary Ehlenberger
    July 11, 2010 at 2:27 PM

    We are changing into a Steady-state-economy, we are starting to hit the wall now. Read the following:
    http://faculty.salisbury.edu/~mllewis/ENVR%20460%20Horton/New%20Scientist%20the%20folly%20of%20growth.pdf

    1. Reduce government by 1/2.
    2. Tax the bad and simplify rules, close loop holes, rules with teeth.
    3. Do not produce shit that ends up in landfills – goal no landfills.
    4 Reduce military to at least 1/2.
    5.Shorten work week to 3.5 days to help with the unemployment produced by the Gov and military reductions.
    6. Goal is to have a sustainable economics.

  1. May 26, 2010 at 2:21 AM

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