City Investors Just Have the Good of Common Folks at Heart
Britain’s financial class is very concerned about average people and their pensions. So concerned in fact, that they’re criticising US President Barack Obama for “excessively” criticising BP.
Wait, what? That’s the message of this article in the Telegraph. And before I begin to criticise it, I should point out that I do not have a television and my uterus is not wandering, so this nonsense from Jason Kenney, an oil and gas analyst at ING (no ulterior motives there, I’m sure!), doesn’t apply to me:
The US reaction is getting towards hysterical. Half of them seem to think the US is knee deep in oil. It’s difficult to underestimate the effect 24-hour TV dinner media coverage of the spill is having over there
No, Mr. Kenney, I’m pretty sure that most US residents can step outside and observe that the country isn’t “knee deep in oil”. But what they have also seen, along with the rest of the world, are the images of dolphins with their skin burned away, birds unable to lift their wings because of the oil. We’ve heard (or read) experts say that they do not know what the long-term effects on the ecosystem are going to be. And we know that the reason the oil has continued gushing for so long is because BP did not have a backup plan.
How exactly do you define excessive criticism for all that?
BP and the financial class have an interest in making the issue seem to be one of nationalism and harm to the average person. They want to see the UK government try to protect BP from the consequences of its negligence (and the current coalition government can’t be too difficult to push in that direction).
One investment manager said: “Experts have said that the clean-up costs could reach a maximum of £20 billion which means the hit to BP is excessive on any scale.”
Huh? Being required to clean up your mess is excessive? Elsewhere in the article, there is reference to BP being punished though being expected to restore what you’ve destroyed is hardly punitive
One wonders exactly how much these fine upstanding members of the city (not to mention the Telegraph reporters and editors who gave them the opportunity to communicate their propaganda) have themselves invested in BP. But that really is not the point.
The bigger issue here is structural. Corporations are designed to make it difficult to punish guilty parties. Responsibility becomes diffused throughout a hierarchy, and it is always possible to find some middle-class or lower people who have little to no decision-making ability who will be harmed by holding a company as a whole responsible for what it, as an organisation, has done. Without mechanisms for using the wealth of decision-makers within the company (CEOs who can generally afford to take a hit to their pensions) in order to offset these losses, innocent people do suffer.
Yet the outrage of the financial class is directed not at the unfair structures but at those trying to hold companies responsible for what they have done.
It is also worth noting that everyone quoted in the article (with the possible exception of those remaining anonymous) is a man. Such gender imbalances are typical when the interests of the wealthy and powerful are being depicted: after all, women are still underrepresented in this group.
All that said, there is one way in which the criticism of BP can be taken as excessive, and that is when compared with the lack of global outrage at what Shell has done and continues to do in Nigeria. Activists who have been trying to draw attention to the harm Chevron does to communities in the Philippines and other nations (h/t) have received little mainstream media coverage. While BP should be criticised and forced to pay, the only reason that it is being loudly condemned is that it created a disaster off the shore of a rich and powerful country.
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- The Gulf Disaster: Whose Asses Need Kicking? (time.com)
- Crisis point man tells BP to say more about claims (seattletimes.nwsource.com)