That Was Fast -- Rand Paul Throws Libertarian "Principles" Out the Window
Rand Paul's supporters argue that his greatest flaw is his relentless honesty. In the Wall Street Journal, James Taranto gushed that "Far from being evasive, Paul has shown himself to be both candid and principled to a fault." But in an Appearance on Good Morning America,Paul proved that he is just another corporate-power-loving wing-nut who believes companies can do no harm, and there's nothing principled or libertarian about that stance. As Matt Corley reported earlier, Paul said Obama's promise to put his “boot heel on the throat of BP” was "un-American." He mused that it was an example of our "blame game society," in which "it’s always got to be someone’s fault," and added: "maybe sometimes accidents happen." The context here is important. Obama was talking about forcing BP to accept full liability for its actions. Libertarians believe that we are all autonomous agents who should be free to make our own rational choices, and then we must take responsibility for the results of the decisions we make. BP has caused billions and billions in damages to others, and its liability for the mess is capped at just $75 million plus the actual costs of the clean-up (but since BP will likely be found negligent in operating the rig, those caps are not necessarily going to apply). Along the way, the company made choices. Its managers chose to drill in 5,000 feet of water, and then cut corners in terms of safety not only on the Horizon, but as a general operating principle. They made a rational decision to drill with a blow-out preventer that had a dead battery and was effectively "useless." And they chose not to invest a half million dollars in a back-up system that might have prevented the worst damages. The people of the Gulf whose livelihoods are being destroyed by the spill had no say in those decisions. It's what economists call a "negative externality" -- effects of a private transaction on a 3rd party. True libertarians believe that government's only role should be to keep the peace and to correct market failures when they occur. Negative externalities represent the classic market failure. Libertarians believe the government doesn't need to regulate -- to, for example, force oil-rig operators to have redundant systems and tightly monitor their safety routines -- because the market will punish those actors who make the wrong choices. BP, according to the "logic" of the free market, should now bear the full burden for the results of the choices it made. Libertarians believe that when a free individual makes choices that harm others, litigation from other private actors will result. That's known as "private enforcement," and true libertarians argue that it is far preferable to "public enforcement," AKA regulation. I have a whole chapter in my book about how ours is a political culture that embraces the idea of free markets, but only in principle. BP made those choices I mentioned above because they were the economically rational things to do -- they knew that if they destroyed a large swath of the Gulf Mexico in the process, they wouldn't end up paying for it in its entirety, so management could rationally take more risk than they would have in a real free market system. If Rand Paul were truly a principled libertarian, he'd be out in front of Obama, demanding that BP take full responsibility for its actions because it's the free market thing to do. Instead, he dismisses the whole notion of taking responsibility for one's decisions with an airy statement that "accidents happen." That makes Rand Paul just another Republican whose first instinct is to bow down in obeisance to the corporations that he apparently believes can do no harm -- they only suffer "accidents" -- even while thousands of barrels of oil continue to leak into the Gulf. I suppose he must be if he seriously wants to function in the GOP establishment. But I also think it's quite disappointing.