Sunday, May 23, 2010

Letter to Rand Paul

During the primary season, I had a decision with regard to which libertarian Senate candidate to put my limited financial support towards, Rand Paul or Peter Schiff. I decided on Schiff. Schiff is a successful investor, a well educated Austrian economist with a track record of successfully predicting market movements. All I knew about Paul was that he his his father's son... though I had no idea how close or far this particular apple fell from the tree.

I hope I am wrong about this, but some of his recent comments suggest the apple is not so close as one might have hoped. His stumbling and backpedaling on the question of the Civil Rights Act show he lacks his father's political acumen. And his seemingly reflexively pro-Business (with a deliberately capital "B") stance on the BP oil spill show him to be unreflective, at the very least. This isn't to say I wouldn't vote for him were I a Kentuckian... just that he recent performance is underwhelming.

The following is a letter I sent via the contact form on his website.

I just wanted to say I was disappointed by your handling of questions regarding the appropriate reaction to the BP oil spill. The comments you've been reported as making on this subject suggest, I think, that you are less the complete Libertarian your father has managed to portray himself as.

The case of the BP oil spill is, IMO, a case where the two feuding branches of the Liberal family tree (Libertarianism and modern "liberalism") should be able to agree on the appropriate outcome, and quibble only over the means. Indeed, the libertarian response to BP's spill should be even more radical than the Progressive response.

Yes, "accidents happen", but responsible people cop to it and do whatever they must to make it right. And if government has any purpose, it is to (via tort law) force those who impose costs on others, for whatever reason, to compensate injured parties for that damage. It's the same, IMO, whether some drunk accidentally rams his car into the side of my house, some kid sprays paint over the side of my house, some burgler removes objects from inside my house, some power company dusts the siding with soot on a continual basis, or some oil company drenches my house in oil.

And the damage from this spill is going to be enormous, quite possible enough to bankrupt BP altogether if they were made to pay for it all... and that's just the property recognized by The State. When one considers the effects on the "commons" of the gulf region in general, and the people who live and work there, the number is staggering (and beyond my ability to calculate). One may not be hearing about BP not paying... but they don't have to say anything about it. Congress has already capped their liability.

I honestly don't really care why it happened, though some do, and I wasn't even remotely surprised, having worked in a number of corporate environments lead by overreaching, short-term thinkers, to hear that BP has a record of a cavilar attitude toward safety and preventative maintenance. And it's not surprising that any company in that industry would have this kind of problem, given Congress' consistent record of subsidizing unsafe practices by capping liability in such cases. It's starting to become a cliche, but we really do need to stop socializing risk.

And even if BP did everything "right", perhaps the decision to drill as deep as they did with the particular technology they used was too great a risk. I don't have a problem with people taking risks, but I do have a problem with people taking risks, collecting the proceeds when they win, but making their neighbors pay for it when they lose.

Your response should have been something along the lines of "I don't think we should disallow drilling at any depth or in any place outright... but I do think we should remove (not merely raise it as Bill Nelson proposed) the liability cap established under the 1992 law. The oil companies themselves are in a better position than anyone else to judge whether the practice can be done safely, and holding them accountable for the entire consequences of taking this risk (something not done today) would give them a clear incentive to do so only if it could be done safely." In other words, yes, the oil spill is a tragedy and BP needs to dig as deeply as it can, up to and including bankruptcy, to restore the property of those harmed by this tragedy, The solution is not more bureaucracy, as a progressive would have it, but rather plain old justice, holding people accountable for their mistakes.

Your father seemed to understand this while he was writing The Revolution: A Mainfesto. You don't seem to, or at least you weren't able to think of it while under the harsh spotlight you really should have seen coming.

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