Saturday, August 7, 2010


Assuming responsibility for one’s own actions is as American as apple pie.  I dare say 99% of the American population would agree with that particular principle, but where has it gone? 

Attacking government seems to be a growing sport in today’s world.  Almost any time one can find someone on television or radio holding forth about "creeping socialism" taking hold of our government, and that government itself is strangling individuality.

Common complaints are that government is interfering with business, discouraging free enterprise and stifling individualism.  Business lobbyists claim industry is over regulated, that the current administration is anti-business; and all of this together is responsible for the downturn in the entire world economy.  Almost everyone believes themselves to be overtaxed and that our U.S. government is giving away our money faster than they can extract it from us.  

If anything is to be learned from the BP oil spill disaster and recent explosions, it is that there is not enough regulation, at least of the oil industry to make the public, workers, and/or our environment safe.

You can rest assured that BP will spend millions, possibly billions to avoid as much of its responsibility as possible.  In the end BP will argue they adhered to government regulations and that their damages should be capped by an act of Congress so they do not face unlimited damages for what they have wrought on our beaches, marshes, and with our marine life.

It is only necessary to read a daily newspaper on a fairly regular basis or be a close observer of the world news to become aware that special interests and big money in the U.S. is spending millions on thousands of lobbyists to avoid responsibility for harm, damages and cost to others.  The lobbyists like to give their objectives cool names such as Fighting Socialism, Avoiding Over-Regulation or Tort Reform.  Stripped of the nice trappings, in short, these should simply be called Avoidance of Responsibility.

Child psychologists and scholars of penal systems all agree the best way to deter bad conduct is to make bad consequences flow from bad acts and make the assignment of responsibility swift and sure.  Our American tort system has the advantage of doing that.  It is designed to hold people accountable for their wrongdoing and in a way that most big business understands.  If you don’t adhere to proper standards and you injure someone or someone’s property, you are responsible and must pay out of your pocket.  

Thousands of lobbyists in Austin and Washington are busy every day trying to destroy this system.  The public posture of most lobbyists is that their industry welcomes regulations.  Of course they welcome regulation, but not too much. They especially welcome regulation if it deters competition in their field.  

These business lobbyists always argue that government regulation should protect them from law suits or claims.  They argue business adheres to government regulation that should be adequate to avoid responsibility for any bad consequences which ensue.  Unfortunately too often industry writes those regulations and rules.

Ask yourself if you can remember any circumstance where government regulation has adequately protected the public. Government regulations, for example, were adhered to in the manufacture of the Pinto which turned out to be a flaming death trap for more than one family. 

How about medicine?  How many times has FDA approved medicine which resulted in death or disastrous disability for unwary patients after being approved by this government agency?  

How well do you think government regulation has prevented insurance companies from cheating their customers?  Or, lending institutions from unfairly foreclosing families’ homes?

Recently, the federal EPA has found that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has wholly failed in its responsibility to adequately prevent poisonous emissions in Texas.

Unfortunately, in too many instances the government agencies responsible for regulating a particular industry rely too heavily on input from the industry and in some cases all but let industry lobbyists or representatives write the very regulations they are to be governed by.  The federal agency responsible for licensing and approving drilling and procedures for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico was one such agency. 

It has now been revealed the oil industry, the drilling industry and their regulators were so cozy they exchanged gifts, socialized together, and generally supped from the same table.  As a result, thousands will be unemployed for the foreseeable future and in all likelihood there will be a shortage of seafood for the average family.  The surviving families of those killed on BP’s rig will continue to suffer without their breadwinners.

So, the next time you see some “talking head” railing that what this country needs is less government restriction, stop allowing lawsuits, stop allowing jurors to hand out justice, this is nothing more than another way to escape personal responsibility for their own wrongdoing.

1 comment:

  1. All of that is very well and good. But speaking of owning our own messes, my own most fervent hope for any good to come from the Gulf disaster, is that the shareholders of these giant energy companies will begin to hold their own managements responsible for protecting - or for failing to protect - their investment. When British pensioners begin to see that BP's management has the unique ability to put them in the poor house, perhaps they'll take a more active interest in BP's appalling environmental record, and stop relying on the British and American governments as watchdogs. And the same for all these other companies, and the large institutions who own them, particularly our pension funds.

    That is the kind of accountability that we should all hope to see in the aftermath of this mess, accountability not only to the government and the law, but accountability to shareholders. After all, it's their $20 billion.


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