By Richard Miller
Ayn Rand is not one of this site’s favourite thinkers. She was badly wrong about lots of important things. But she could sometimes hit the nail very squarely on the head. She was right when she spoke – perhaps at too great a length- about the importance of a creator class in sustaining prosperity.
She turns out to have been right too when she penned an essay entitled “America’s persecuted minority: Big Business.” I know it sounds way over the top; and I thought so too until I came across a piece recently by one Danny Fortson in the Business section of “The Sunday Times” entitled “B[ritish] P[etroleum] losses appeal on bogus Gulf Claims”
The back story, of course, is the explosion that destroyed the huge Deepwater Horizon oil rig owned by B.P. in the Gulf of Mexico nearly four years ago. The blast in which eleven people died, was caused by criminal incompetence; and B.P. pleaded guilty. As a result of the destruction of the rig four million barrels of crude oil poured into the sea wrecking the businesses of many commercial fisherman, and damaging the tourist business in the area. Quite properly, B.P. was obliged to pay for the clean up operations and compensation for the damage caused by their mismanagement.
This was tough on B.P. And for its shareholders whose investment plunged in value, and who lost at least one dividend- but that’s business. But so far, so good. No one is defending B.P.’s original mismanagement which led to the explosion. Indeed up to this point and despite its tragic elements, the episode may to some extent done good in so far as made it clear that corporations- like others- have the obligation to pay for the damage that they do.
However the judgement against B.P. did not end the scandal. It was in fact but the prelude to another scandal. Not only was the administration of the court ordered compensation fund so hoplelessly corrupt that half its staff either resigned or were sacked. But B.P. also got a flood of completely false claims amid the genuine ones. For example according to B.P. some five percent of the claims were made on behalf of people who were dead. Indeed in all forty percent of the individual claims recieved by B.P. turn out to have been spurious.
As shocklingly, a construction company in Alabama put in claim- which was rewarded- for nearly ten million dolars despite the fact that its operations were two hundred miles away from the coast. And a law firm in in Lousiana was granted more than three million dollars at B.P.’s expense despite having made more money in the year of the claim tthan they had previously Quite properly B.P. appealed against these and other entirely bogus claims.
However recently one of these appeals was rejected ( another perhaps more important one is pending). “We note” wrote the judges ” that the application of a stricter evidentiary standard might reveal persons or entities who recieved payments under [the agreement’s rules] and yet have suffered no loss resulting from the spill…But the courts are not authorised [ to use] such a standard for this purpose.” Well really! I never did hear the like…except, of course, that I did!
The B.P. logo 1958- 89
What we have here is the persecution of a minority through the legal system which woulld be the subject of general outrage were it directed at Blacks, Jews, or the handicapped- but which seems to be acceptable if it is directed against a corporation.
Yes, in this instance at least, Ayn Rand really does seem to have been right. B.P. is being treated like a persecuted minority.
Let us hope that this unfair and foolish judgement does not stand. If it does, and the latest legal news- in so far as I can understand it- does not look good for B.P.- then those thinking of investing in The United States have been given a clear warning…and oh yes, in the meantime show your support for the rule of law ( and common sense ) by BUYING B.P. PETROL.