Not hard to feel that corporate mongrels and their fellow pack members and camp followers are too often lifting their legs on the people. :)
You state that you can only punish specific behavior and demand accountability after the fact. I am not sure what you are arguing; can you clarify? Why would you punish before the fact? Or are you considering any regulation “punishment?” And if so, are basic traffic laws, and requirements to expend time, energy, and money in learning and becoming proficient and demonstrating that about those laws through tests, also “punishment” in this defintion?
Regulation did previously exist, but had been gutted over several years. And what regulation there was had a drastic decrease in monitors or enforcers, and political-economic influence to further reduce or divert emphasis (further demonstrating the choking power of corporatism). There is a saying in both government and business that “what gets monitored and measured, gets accomplished, and often accomplished better.” There was little real monitoring or measurement in the case we are discussing.
Given that BP is one of the oil-heroin dealers that our addictive society depends on, we the people and the society already start at a deep disadvantage. An older film depicts that nicely. One of the top CIA officials is defending dirty tricks and corruption to a CIA employee with a conscience:
CIA official: It's simple economics. Today it's oil, right? In ten or fifteen years, food,,,Maybe even sooner. Now, what do you think the people are gonna want us to do then?
Employee: Ask them?
CIA official: Not now - then! Ask 'em when they're running out. Ask 'em when there's no heat in their homes and they're cold. Ask 'em when their engines stop. Ask 'em when people who have never known hunger start going hungry. You wanna know something? They won't want us to ask 'em. They'll just want us to get it for 'em!
“Three Days of the Condor.”
Of course, no one can predict the results of ALL contemplated actions, even with the most sincere effort. But we seem to be predicting few significant results, and the “efforts” seem both deficient and often anything but sincere.
$20B, if that actually materializes, is a one-time cost. And none of the individuals paid for it personally; it didn’t even much affect their salary/bonus/benefits. That’s a problem with “lessons” for corporations, or punishing “their” behavior. They are a fictional entity in that their pain (gain’s another story!), especially in a world where real control has been assumed by tightly woven, inter-connected boards and individuals, seldom becomes reality for the executives at the top.
Consumers have, at best, a mixed record of influencing corporate behavior. Not only are our memories very short-term, but in our maniacally-paced society, most people can’t take the stressful complication, or the time, to worry, let alone actually, DO something about things in the specific. They might give their money in general to places or money managers that behave or invest responsibly (witness the rise in socially responsible investing), but only the truly dedicated do much more than that.
And lessons? It has barely been 20 years since Exxon Valdez. And here we are, having ‘learned”…what? And that incident, while it cost Exxon several months to a year or so of profit, not only put into play the first credit default swap (precursor of the infamous “derivatives”), but got appealed in litigation so much that the system eventually mitigated most damage that Exxon might take (another example of who holds real power), and Exxon went on to make record profits. I think the other companies learned an obvious lesson from that.
You said you would like me to outline a solution I would like to see:
The solution, maybe a fantasy one, would see corporate law and regulation changed dramatically, primarily in the arena of personal accountability, and the enforcement of existing law and regulation about this. These days, the “corporate veil” (which is not an unsound idea in and of itself) is rarely pierced by the judicial system for criminal liability, and almost never pierced for anything else, to financially or otherwise punish the arrogantly disdainful and near-utterly disconnected managements and boards who inflict the colossal damage we’ve been discussing. It would also be nice if our legislators and executive agents actually held managements and boards truly accountable, but again, that would be a bit like asking a bribed judge to hold Tammany Hall accountable. This idea that corporations should have the same First Amendment protections that individuals have has also made a terrible travesty of true justice.
And now that the spill has been supposedly “plugged,” our short-term, emergency only fixations, along with our short-term memories and lack of valuing history, will mean we will be on to something else, when of course the economic and environmental effects will last many many years. But the urge to do something positive and deter future occurrences? Getting smaller by the day.
Ah, “gradual adjustment.” Yes, that esoterica. They have been talking for 40 years of “getting off oil,” and “the plan down the road.” It is the sort of vagueness that serves only to continue one/us in the same racing lane toward what may not be ASSUREDLY the road to ruin, but which assuredly is one of steep and unnecessary pain.
Addicts rarely taper down to success, even with help. Cold turkey is still the most effective long-term behavior changer, primarily because of its completeness and its searing agony. People and society will get creative, and get motivated and energized, when they are getting proverbially slapped hard, especially if they are getting slapped in both the pocketbook and lifestyle. That’s how paradigms and cultures change relatively rapidly. Leaving it to gradualism may not be a viable option anymore.
You see ridiculous stupidity, of which there is a great deal. I see even more monstrous selfishness and even criminality. You are willing to go far in giving BP and the others the benefit of the doubt. I am not. They are part of the corpocracy. Their spin cover is very good, their shadowy and not so shadowy control of the political system even better. Their ability to flood the information stream with red herrings, misinformation, and just general “noise” is truly impressive. And they like to trumpet the Harvard Business Model a little too much—and so does Harvard, which has not only done its “independence” no favors, but become in too many ways part and parcel of the corporate culture (and sometimes led the way in forming things of that culture).
Learning relatively lasting lessons is a problem in American culture. Whether it is interventions that bear too much resemblance to past ones (and with too many of the same effects), or economic-political decisions (Savings and Loan scandal anyone?), our status as an ahistorical culture continues to hurt us.