I’ve never been a fan of the company called BP. For one thing, I thought their slogan, “Beyond Petroleum,” was political pandering of a very low sort, and also disrespectful to their own employees, the vast majority of whom were and are engaged in petroleum-related activities.
But regardless of my feelings about this corporation, I am increasingly appalled at the lynch-mob spirit behind the attacks on it by the Obama admninistration…in particular, the strident demands, while the crisis is not yet resolved, for increasingly vast sums of money in compensation for the damages caused. (See this, for example)
In the United States, we have an established mechanism for establishing damages in situations like this. It is called the court system, and it involves things like laws, precedents, contracts among the companies involved (and BP was not the only company involved here), and this little thing called evidence. For all of this, Obama seems to want to substitute something like a civil version of the constitutionally-prohibited bills of attainder, though in this case driven exclusively by the executive (him) rather than involving legislative process.
Those who think that this is okay, given BP’s bad performance in this matter, would do well to consider the words of Sir Thomas More in the play A Man for All Seasons:
Thomas More (to his son-in-law): What would you do, son Roper? Cut a great road through the law to get at the devil?
Roper: Yes! I’d cut down every law in England to do that.
More: Oh? And when the last law was down and the devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide…the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws coast to coast, man’s laws, not God’s, and if you cut them down, …do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I would give the devil the benefit of law for my own safety.
Some of the time and energy that Obama and members of his administration have spent in demonizing BP would have been better served in pursuing practical measures to control and limit the damage from this incident. The handling of both the offer of help from the Dutch, and the offer of oil-containment booms from a Maine company, point to serious administrative chaos and incompetence. As a lawyer, Obama should be aware that there is a “duty to mitigate damages,” not to just sit back and let the worst happen and then claim maximumn compensation.
Obama’s demonization of BP is also having a negative impact on this country’s relationship with the UK. Many British citizens own BP stock, directly or indirectly, and Obama’s previous actions toward Britain…the return of the Churchill bust, the insulting gifts, the lack of support in the Falklands matter…have already convinced many Britons that Obama is prejudiced against their country. The stridency of the attacks on BP (which he refers to as “British Petroleum,” even though that has not been the company’s name for some time now) cannot but confirm this belief.
But it is the undercutting of the American legal system that concerns me the most. Yesterday, Bill Waddell wrote about the factors involved in a company’s success or lack thereof. He cites the book Dynamic Manufacturing, by Wheelwright and Clark:
One of their central ideas was that the business can be viewed as a combination of structure and infrastructure. Structure is the physical, tangible part – machines, buildings, material handling and computers. Infrastructure is the soft part that is hard to see – systems, measurements, how numbers are put together and how decisions get made – in other words, management. It includes things like the organizational structure, accounting and measurement systems, supply chain management processes, capital investment decision criteria and quality management.
They had a great insight in pointing out that no company succeeds in the long haul on the basis of structure. By definition it is physical, and can be made or bought by anyone. You are not going to outperform the competition with anything you buy like a machine or a new computer. If it is that good, they can and eventually will buy one just like yours.
The key to success lies in the infrastructure of the business – how you manage it. And even if you use similar logic, the management will be a reflection of the collective wisdom, knowledge, experience and values of the management team. It will be as unique as fingerprints.
(I’m not fond of the word “infrastructure” in this context, as it generally implies something much more tangible, but don’t have a better idea at the moment.) These ideas can be applied at the level of a society as well as at the level of an individual company. A big part of America’s success has been a legal infrastructure which was stable, predicable, and reasonably nonintrusive. This infrastructure has already been grievously harmed by the Democrats’ encouragement of rabid levels of litigation, combined with regulatory micromanagement–Obama’s lynch-mob approach to damage assessment threatens to do it additional grievous harm.