Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Difference between Government and Business

I just finished reading this chilling blog on the gulf oil spill.

Briefly, it suggests that the "downhole" is damaged and that the oil is already leaking into the ground around the well. In due course the well head (weighing about 500 tons) will fall over due to abrasion in the downhole pipe and the well will start to disintegrate. Think lots more oil gushing into the gulf. Etc.

It's pretty obvious that a major cause of the accident was BP trying to cut corners and cut costs.

Well? That's what businesses do to stay competitive.

Congersmen are experts at expressing shock and outrage at this. So are lefty activists. Corporate greed, they call it.

In this they are acting like stopped clocks, right twice a day. But they say nothing when, e.g., John D. Rockefeller lowers the price of illuminating oil from $0.80 a gallon to $0.08. (In today's dollars that is $80 and $8).

On the other hand, it is clear that government suffers from the opposite problem. For instance we know, from numerous reports, that about half the kids arriving in college from high school need remedial classes before they are ready for college material.

What do public schools do about this? Nothing. And they will do nothing until the education system starts falling about our ears.

So here is my universal rule.

The difference between business and government is that business keeps cutting costs until something breaks. Government keeps doing the same old thing until something breaks.

As a complete right-wing nut-case (or right wing-nut case) I'm rather partial to the first notion. We humans proceed down the ages by trial and error. When we make a mistake, we fix it.

Obviously, BP has made a big mistake in the gulf. Today, it's time to fix it. Tomorrow it will be time to do "lessons learned," punish the innocent and let the guilty go free.

The second notion, if you like, is close to the "precautionary principle" beloved by environmentalists. Don't do anything unless you are sure it is safe. That is what government bureaucrats do by instinct because the only thing that can prevent you from getting your inflation-proofed government pension is a big mistake.

Since doing nothing can be just as unsafe as doing something, the precautionary principle is meaningless, except as a political prodding tool. But it is a universal tool for government proponents, since only people in business ever actually "do" anything.

Meanwhile we continue to refine the ancient art of scapegoating. We locate someone to take the blame for all our mistakes and disasters, and then stuff them into an oil well.

Ain't life great?

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