Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Oil & Hypocrisy

Gov. Bobby Jindal (R-LA) and other Republicans shrilly blaming the Federal government for its slothful response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill are accused by big-government proponents as hypocrites. You've spent your career calling for smaller government, and now you want the government to act for you? On the right, Jindal and others take flak for being sharply critical of BP. Don't criticize Big Oil, they're on "our side"! You're becoming a lefty.

But Jindal is exactly right. There's a massive environmental disaster going on, and he's calling to account those who had responsibility for the spill. Dealing with the consequences of ones own actions is the heart of conservatism, no? Perhaps offshore oil drilling regulation ought to devolve from the Department of the Interior to the states, but that's a matter for the future. As it is now, MMS employees were "captured" by the companies they were supposed to regulate. They and their bosses ought to face blame and take responsibility.

Even more so, BP should be fully accountable and should fully pay for this error. Every last cent of the cleanup should be billed to the company. After all, they kept all the profits when the well was pumping black gold up from the ocean floor, right? Conservatism defends the right to turn a profit, but it must also defend society against absorbing mistakes made by businesses. Bailing out Freddie, Fanny, Wall Street, Detroit, and now potentially BP (a foreign firm!) grates against the conscience of any true conservative.

If BP fails to pay for the cleanup from this disaster, it should be barred from doing business in the United States until its debt is paid. This isn't an anti-business stance, it's a pro-business stance. The long-term viability of capitalism depends on rights to property and responsibility.

Likewise, calling government to account for its responsibilities is a key aspect of small-government conservatism. There's a pragmatism behind small government: nobody is good at doing a little bit of everything. Better for Washington to do its core missions well than to do some of everything (sell cars, educate children, rebuild Afghanistan, etc) poorly. Regulating the competitive marketplace to prevent monopoly and to enforce contracts is a fundamental mission of national government. Holding bureaucrats, regulators, and politicians accountable for the "public service" they were hired to do is right in line with small-government beliefs.

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