Current Events Regulation

Rand Paul and the oil spill

Rand Paul is the the son of libertarian Senator Ron Paul and is currently running for Senate in the state of Kentucky.  Although Dr. Paul (an ophthalmologist) recently won the primary in his state, he’s gotten in some hot water for some comments he made.  For instance, he’s stated opposition to some parts of the civil rights act.

Today, however, I’d like to discuss his comment that the government’s treatment of BP–the oil company whose rig spilled millions of gallons of oil into the ocean–was “un-American.”  Referring to President Obama, Dr. Paul stated:

I think that sounds really un-American in his criticism of business. I’ve heard nothing from BP about not paying for the spill. And I think it’s part of this sort of blame-game society in the sense that it’s always got to be someone’s fault instead of the fact that sometimes accidents happen.

I think Dr. Paul’s comments have a lot of truth.  BP did not want the oil spill to occur.  Although oil companies are often seen as greedy and corrupt, no oil company would want to lose millions of gallons of its most important asset: oil.  The popular media seems to demonize BP as if this were an intentional act.

Let me be clear, BP is at fault here and must pay the damages.  However, the fault was careless, but not intentional.  At your own job, however, I doubt you perform every task perfectly so no one should expect BP to do the same.

In an ideal libertarian world, there would be no regulation of the oil companies.  However, when a spill like this occurs, those affected could sue BP and be compensated for their losses.  BP is willing to pay our large settlement sums.

As we know, however, this is not a perfect world.  BP is a large company with significant resources to pay for lawyers.  The people hurt by the oil spill include the tourism industry, fisherman, and others.  Brining these all these smaller, disparate individuals and firms together may be difficult.  Further, the poorest people affected by the oil spill may not have the time or resources to participate in the lawsuit.  Thus, there may be a need for some regulation.  However, will government regulators know about oil rig safety more than BP engineers?  I doubt it.

The point of this fairly rambling post is that Dr. Paul’s comments do not align with conventional wisdom, but they are far from unreasonable.


  1. It appears that BP deliberately bypassed safety mechanisms. If that is done intentionally, does it matter whether they intended to cause the oil to spill? Does intention apply to medicine as well? Physicians don’t usually intend to kill people, but they do kill in fact kill people. Intention is a tricky thing to judge from the outside, and for those who care about dead people, dead fish, and dead ecosystems, “I/we didn’t mean it is cold comfort.”

  2. The history of oil companies making payments is what? Look it up, then decide. I would also remember a quote ascribed to Gladstone. Justice delayed is justice denied. (Let me recommend one of my favorite books, Snakes In Suits) Finally, criticizing someone is un-American? I thought it was the American pastime.


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