A Libertarian Question

A Libertarian Question on the Recent Spill:

Samizdata asks a question:

One issue for us free marketeers is this: we like to talk about how pollution is, in some ways, a property rights issue. When a huge oil leak contaminates a sea and damages vast amounts of marine life and say, fishing industries, it is an interesting question on how exactly that issue gets resolved without some way of apportioning costs and compensation. Is a state needed to oversee this? Can it be fixed by entirely non-state means?
The answer to that question is "No," because costs approaching the costs of this spill are always going to be worth fighting for. As a result, some coercive method is going to be required to ensure that payments are made, not merely promised.

The closest a pure market solution could come to that is some sort of Mutually Assured Destruction arrangement, whereby firms/corporations that welshed on their debts would be subject to every party to the agreement refusing to work with them in the future. The problem with such an arrangement is that the firm/corporation is already facing certain destruction if it attempts to pay liabilities on this scale. There's at least a chance they could find a few people willing to work around the agreement; so the MAD "treaty" would necessarily be of less threat than the hard reality of taking responsibility.

Everyone knows I'm no fan of super-powered governments, but this is a clear case for governance. (Nor is it an affront to Constitutionalism: the Constitution gives authority for dealing with Law of the Sea matters to Congress, not the states or the People.)

Now, the bad news: the government model isn't going to work here either.

While I am no lawyer, I'm fairly sure that BP can protect most of its resources by filing for something like bankruptcy under British law. British judges are not likely to hand over a core national asset to be chopped to pieces for America's benefit; especially not at the demand of a President who sent the bust of Churchill back to England because he didn't want it in the White House. Even if he were an honorary Knight of the Garter, though, they're not going to wreck their country to save ours.

A utopian World Government might possibly be able to resolve this matter according to some norm of law. Such a government is a practical impossibility at this time, given humanity's very different ideas of what "justice" and "law" ought to mean. (Confer sha'riah with the West with China.) Even if it weren't impossible, it doesn't exist.

So the lesson is: life isn't fair. Injustice is the norm. The best we can hope to do, with all our efforts at law and order, is to create the occasional lapse in injustice.

Be prepared to suck this one up, because there's nobody to make it right. Nobody can, and therefore nobody will.

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