Oil Sheen Seen Near Damaged Platform in Gulf of Mexico – NYTimes.com

To regulate or not to regulate? The explosion on still another rig in the Gulf is bound to unleash another round of debate—and intensify the existing debate—over whether we need to regulate oil drilling. But the very existence of this debate points to an even more disturbing catastrophe; the fact that Americans, their leaders, and the press that is supposed to keep them honest, are oblivious about how either business or republican statecraft work.

Private businesses are supposed to generate revenue for their shareholders. Now we can debate about whether BP’s Board behaved responsibly toward their shareholders when they knowingly allowed the Deepwater Horizon’s owners to seek and receive no-inspect rights to build and run the rig. Maybe the shareholders should talk to BP about their lack of oversight. However, there is nothing in American law that will compel BP’s Board to behave more responsibly. And, indeed, had the Deepwater Horizon not blown, shareholders would today be praising the Board’s decision not to be burdened by the costs of overregulation. And nine-nine percent of the time the Board would be right to bypass government regulation and oversight. Businesses are value-maximizing machines and they will take advantage of every opportunity they get to enjoy this right. Of course, it is their prerogative to invite regulation and oversight. But that will always be a private decision.

In a republic, however, the people always retain the right to limit private choices in order to promote the general welfare of the republic (its in the US Constitution). That is to say, republics can decide to do for private enterprises what shareholders would never choose to do on their own. These limits are precisely what public law—as distinguished from privilege (i.e “private law”)—is all about. Back in the 18th and 19th centuries, lots of communities decided to throw out privilege and elected to give priority to public over private law. They wrote and approved constitutions that placed this priority into law.

So, why are we even having this debate? Of course, the public can (and should) regulate private industry, including the oil industry. That is the essence of the republican form of government. So, let us instead say out loud what this debate is really about. It is about whether we want to continue to be a Republic.

I’m sorry. Who are the true patriots in this debate?

Oil Sheen Seen Near Damaged Platform in Gulf of Mexico – NYTimes.com

The Lose-Lose Stimulus Package

My mom argues that Obama had a chance to pin the failed $787M stimulus package on the Republicans and then blame them for failing to pass the $1.2T package he should have proposed. Is she right?

I have just returned from Madison, Wisconsin, where my octagenarian mother is beside herself over President Obama’s lack of political courage. Remember, she only knew one President until she was out of high school–FDR.  Here’s what I told her. Geithner and Summers wanted to push a $1.2T stimulus package, but Rahm Emanuel said he did not have the votes to push the package through. So it was either the $787M package or it was no package at all.

She shoots back: but the blue dogs and the Republicans knew that President Obama would cave. Is she right?

The argument goes something like this. Let’s say President Obama tells his blue dogs and Republican naysayers he’s going to let them vote down a $1.2T stimulus. They vote it down and then approve a package similar to the one they actually passed. The difference is that now in 2010, when the economy is tanking, Obama can take to the road saying that the reason the economy is tanking is the blue dogs and Republicans would not support a stimulus package that every responsible economist said was necessary. But, let’s say the blue dogs and Republicans know that this is what is going to happen; and let us say that some, not all, of them fear that they will lose this argument when they return to their constituents in 2010. Enough of them are so frightened that they give Obama the benefit of the doubt and decide to support the $1.2T stimulus. Either way, the President is able to say that he stood his ground. Just as important, he retains his base in 2010.

As it stands, it was President Obama, not the blue dogs and Republicans, who put the insufficient $787M package out on the table. That failed package sticks to Obama and the Democrats, not the blue dogs and the Republicans. And so its a fairly easy and accurate campaign stump: the Democratic package failed, why not give us (the Republicans) a try?

That Rahm Emanuel didn’t see this is not all that surprising. While Rahm has many strengths, that’s not one of them. That Barack Obama didn’t see it is nothing short of astounding. Of all people, Obama should have seen that, win or lose, only the $1.2T package gives him a chance to retain Congress in the 2010 election. And that should have been his No. 1 goal.

So, what about the $787M package? President Obama would have been well-advised to turn and run from it as if it were a mid-term election. The $787M package? “That was the Republican idea. I signed it. But, as I said at the time, it was not enough. And, not surprisingly, it failed.”

So, is my mom right?

Parody about Derivatives Market

Yes, it is true, that the bank, brokerage houses and their respective executives are bailed out. But were the tax-payers really the innocent bystanders portrayed in the story? No. Surely they were not non-drinkers. They too were consuming on credit and held questionable investments. But that’s not the point.

No doubt you have read this parody of the derivates market. Bar owner encourages alcoholic clients to accumulate debt, which banks, investors, and hedge fund managers mistake for a valuable asset. (“Look at all the debt the bar owner has accumulated! Let’s get a share of that!”) The tag line is instructive, but certainly not for the reasons the story’s original author believes:

“Fortunately though, the bank, the brokerage houses and their respective executives are saved and bailed out by a multi-billion dollar no-strings attached cash infusion from their cronies in Government.

“The funds required for this bailout are obtained by new taxes levied on employed, middle-class, non-drinkers who have never been in Heidi’s bar.”

Yes, it is true, that the bank, brokerage houses and their respective executives are bailed out. But were the tax-payers really the innocent bystanders portrayed in the story? No. Surely they were not non-drinkers. They too were consuming on credit and held questionable investments. But that’s not the point.

The point is that they enthusiastically supported the political candidates and espoused the regulatory policies that forced the financial community to take the steps and offer the investment instruments referred to in the story; and, probably with this and similar stories in mind, they will probably indignantly and loudly support political candidates and espouse economic policy changes that will once again fail to adequately regulate markets.


Professor Lough holds a doctorate in Modern European History from the University of Chicago and now teaches World History and Political Economic Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Weber and the Persistence of Religion: Capitalism, Social Theory and the Sublime (Routledge 2006).

And still another Constitutionally tone-deaf Defense Secretary

What is it that the Secretary Gates doesn’t get about democracy or trust? Gates expresses concern that Wikileaks has damaged the trust the United States enjoys among its friends and allies, but expresses no concern at all over the deceit, half-truths and lies the US has spread among its friends and allies, not to mention its own citizens, that were disclosed by Wikileaks. Gates suggests that trust is best served by lying, that truth is best served by deception, and that democracy is best served by private self-interest. Something is terribly wrong here.