• 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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