The Economist, which supported Barack Obama enthusiastically in his election campaign, has issued a shot across his bow. Frankly, I think the whole politics of the BP fiasco reflects the tendency of humans to think that everything that goes wrong requires someone to blame. Is BP really worse than all the other oil companies? And would Obama be trying so hard to look “tough” if people didn’t think it was the job of the U.S. President to stop a deep-sea oil leak?
The oil spill should teach us something about public policy. If we want these things never to happen, we should shut down deep-sea oil drilling. But if we allow it, accidents – bad, perhaps unfixable ones – sometimes will happen. (And yes, the liability cap may have made these accidents more likely.) Many Americans seem to be unwilling to accept that these tradeoffs exist, perhaps because if they did, they’d have to give themselves some share of the blame for this disaster.