By Sheldon Richman

You Really Want Government Drilling for Oil?

You’ve got to hand it to the people who really dislike free markets. They see them everywhere (under every bed?) and especially wherever any serious problem arises. That no free market exists within a thousand miles makes no difference whatsoever.

Take the oil spill in the Gulf. Market opponents are having a field day. They say this finally demonstrates the need for government to run things. Private firms can’t be trusted.

But it looks more like government can’t be trusted. The central government is, in law and in fact, the owner of the part in the Gulf where BP drilled for oil. (I didn’t say it was the legitimate owner.) The owner leased its property to a private company, BP, with a bad safety record (though a good one for sucking up to the environmentalist establishment and bureaucrats) and issued permits for the drilling operation. It then failed to keep a sharp eye on what BP and subcontractors Transocean and Halliburton were doing to its property. That might have something to do with the fact that government regulators don’t have the sort of relationship to “their” property that real private owners do, and they can always be counted on to get friendly with those they regulate. The Minerals Management Service in the Interior Department has a special conflict of interest: It makes money off the drilling it permits and regulates. Thus it could benefit from decisions that are bad for the public.

So what failed here, the market or the State? The call isn’t even close. The free market was nowhere near the scene. It has an airtight alibi. It didn’t exist.

Now with some effort you might get a die-hard anti-market person to concede this. So we move to the next step. What should replace the current hybrid (government-corporate) system? I see only two choices: full government management or full market management. Full government management wouldn’t appear terribly promising, considering that the current problems are traceable back to government management already. How would things change substantially if, instead of contracting out the drilling to a nominally private company, the government instead hired the personnel itself and paid them directly from the U.S. Treasury? Who cares if the rig says “BP, ” “Transocean,” or “U.S. Government” on it? The same fallible people would be in the same position to make the same fateful mistakes. Not much would have changed.

Read the whole thing here: You Really Want Government Drilling for Oil?