Why Not Feel Sorry for Exxon?

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To say that
the oil spill has been blown up to hysterical dimensions is a
grave understatement. Hysteria abounds everywhere, and everywhere
the term "disaster" is freely used. Even Pat Buchanan,
who of all the media commentators I thought would be most resistant
to the wiles of environmentalism, used that term. The Idiotic
Overstatement Award of the Year goes to Alaska Judge Kenneth Rohl,
who opined about the oil spill, "We have a manmade destruction
that has not been equaled, probably, since Hiroshima."

Hundreds
of thousands of innocent Japanese were massacred at Hiroshima;
that’s a disaster. Over the last several months, the Ayatollah’s
government has murdered thousands of political prisoners; a million
Iranians and Iraqis were killed in their late monstrous war; the
Pol Pot regime, in the mid-1970s, genocidally massacred one-third
of the Cambodian population.

Those are
disasters. That’s "man-made destruction." In the Valdez
oil spill, not a single human life was lost. Not a single person
was even injured.

Furthermore,
those disasters were intentional; the oil spill was, quite obviously,
an accident. Who suffered the loss of the oil spill? None other
than the Exxon Corporation, which lost ten million gallons of
crude oil; in addition to the $5 million this loss represents,
Exxon will be forced to pay cleanup costs, as well as compensation
to the economic losses incurred by the fishing industry in Alaska.
And so the only loser is Exxon, suffering from the negligence
of its allegedly drunken sea captain. So is everyone feeling sorry
for Exxon, as I do? Hell no; to the contrary, Exxon has been reviled
every day by virtually everyone in the media and in public life.
Contrary to government when it commits an accident or similar
"externality," Exxon, as a private corporation, must
pay the costs it inflicts on others.

So what’s
the problem? Once in a while, accidents happen. Are we to ban
all oil tankers, because once in a long while, a tanker runs aground?
Are we to outlaw all shipping because some ships sink? Are we
to prohibit all air flight because once in a while a plane crashes?

The problem,
of course, is that environmentalists don’t give a tinker’s dam
about paying for external costs. They have their own agenda, scarcely
hidden any more. Look at all their bellyaching about the poor
birds, and the sea otters, and the salmon, etc. Look at their
whining, too, about the beauty of the pristine blue water now
befouled with black or brown oil slicks.

(Well, hell,
maybe a coating of black on blue waters provides an interesting
new esthetic experience; after all, once you’ve seen one chunk
of blue water, you’ve seen them all.) The environmentalists are
in pursuit of their own perverse and anti-human value-scale, in
which every creature, animal, fish, or bird, heck even blue water,
ranks higher than the wants and needs of human beings. The environmentalists
welcome this trumped up "crisis," because they want
to shut down the Alaska pipeline, which supplies a large chunk
of domestic American oil; they want to reverse the Industrial
Revolution, and get back to pristine "nature," with
its chronic starvation, rampant disease, and short, ugly, and
brutish life span.

Note
the difference between the berserker reaction to the Valdez oil
spill, and the response to the last great oil spill in 1978, off
the French coast, when the Amoco Cadiz let loose no less than
60 million gallons of crude oil into the Atlantic – the worst
oil spill in history. There was no hysteria, no screaming headlines,
no bellyaching on television. The courts quietly forced Amoco
to pay $115 million to compensate for costs of the accident, and
that was that. The reactions were different because, in the meantime,
the virus of environmentalism has deeply infected our culture.
Arguing on the basis of private firms paying the costs of liabilities
they impose upon others is all very well, but, as we see in the
smears against Exxon, it is not enough.

We must no
longer allow the environmentalists to seize, undisturbed, the
moral high ground, and arrogate to themselves the good of the
cosmos while the rest of us are portrayed as narrow, selfish,
short-sighted, and immoral. There is no greater immorality than
deep opposition to mankind per se, and environmentalism must be
exposed as that kind of immoral and destructive creed. Only then
will the party of mankind be able to take back our culture.

Published
in the July 1989 issue of Liberty Magazine.

Murray
N. Rothbard
(1926–1995) was dean of the Austrian
School, founder of modern libertarianism, and academic
vice president of the Mises
Institute
. He was also editor — with Lew Rockwell —
of The
Rothbard-Rockwell Report
, and appointed Lew as his
literary executor.

The
Best of Murray Rothbard

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