This from a member of the Linguistics Department at UC Berkeley:
Conservatism’s Death Gusher, by George Lakoff, Berkeley Blog: The issue is
death — death gushing at ten thousand pounds per square inch from a mile below
the sea, tens of thousands of barrels of death a day. Not just death to eleven
human beings. Death to sea birds, sea turtles, dolphins, fish, oyster beds,
shrimp, beaches; death to the fishing industry, tourism, jobs; and death to a
way of life based on the beauty and bounty of the Gulf.
Many, perhaps a majority, of the Gulf residents affected are conservatives,
strong right-wing Republicans, following extremist Governors Bobby Jindal and
Haley Barbour. What those conservatives are not saying, and may be incapable of
seeing, is that conservatism itself is largely responsible for what happened,
and that conservatism is a continuing disaster for conservatives who live along
the Gulf. Conservatism is an ideology of death. ...
It was conservative laissez-faire free market ideology... Cost-benefit
analysis only looks at monetary costs versus benefits, case by case, not at the
risk of massive death of the kind that has been gushing out of the Gulf.
Death, in itself, even at that scale, is not a “cost.” Only an outflow of money
is a “cost.” This is what follows from conservative laissez-faire market
ideology, an ideology that continues to sanction death on a Gulf scale. ...
The conservative worldview says man has dominion over nature: nature is there
for human monetary profit. Profit is sanctioned over the possibility of massive
death and destruction in nature. Conservatives support even more dangerous
drilling off the coast of Alaska and are working to repeal the President’s
moratorium on deep water drilling. Nature be damned; the oil companies have a
right to make money, death or no death. ...
A great many self-identified conservatives are actually what I’ve called “biconceptuals,”
who have both conservative and progressive worldviews, but on different issues.
They actually share a progressive view of nature: they love the beauty and
appreciate the bounty of the Gulf, as it was before the Death Gusher. They want
to save the environment of the Gulf and the way of life as it was. But shift the
issue to the culpability of laissez-faire markets, the absolute right to profit
from nature and profit-maximizing corporate practices, and their conservative
worldview is activated. They will not be able to see the causal role of
conservatism itself in the Death Gusher, and in the conservative ideology of
greed and death that has given us the global warming disaster we now face
Incidentally, there are bi-conceptual Democrats who share the conservative
view of the market. Their views have led to many of President Obama’s problems
with Democrats in Congress.
Finally, there is what progressive Democrats see as a contradiction:
conservative advocates of smaller and weaker government and critics of
governmental power trying to pin the Death Gusher Disaster on Obama for not
having and using enough government power to prevent or lessen the disaster —
even though the government has no capacity to plug oil wells.
The contradiction is logical, from a progressive point of view, but not from
a conservative point of view. The highest value in the conservative universe is
to preserve, defend, and extend conservatism itself. Anything that helps, or
fails to harm, Obama contradicts this highest principle, since Obama’s deepest
values on the whole fundamentally contradict conservative values. Conservatives,
on principle, cannot let a major opportunity to criticize Obama go by. Of
course, it also helps conservatives politically.
Those who are not held captive by the conservative worldview should be able
to recognize the causal role of conservatism in the Death Gusher in the Gulf.
Many progressives do, but keep it to themselves.
Progressives have been much too kind to conservatives on this matter. They
have largely accepted the Bad Actor Frame, criticizing BP but not the whole
industry and its practices. No one should be drilling miles under the sea, where
oil comes out at 10,000 pounds per square inch. No matter how much profit is
Conservatism gushes death — and not only in the Gulf of Mexico.
I think there are two different ways to characterize market fundamentalism, a distinction I tried to get at in Markets are Not Magic. One is the belief that markets have desirable properties when the right conditions are in place (i.e. the conditions that ensure that markets are competitive). I think it would be fair to say that most economists hold the belief that markets function well under the proper conditions (and note that the markets described above clearly do not satisfy these conditions).
The second type of market fundamentalism is the belief that markets perform best when government is involved the least -- the less government the better -- and this includes the belief that market failures will self-correct. Markets will take care of any problems an their own, so government intervention is not required.
Almost all economists recognize that there are some market failures that must be corrected by government intervention, the disagreement is over their prevalence. Some economists see widespread and costly market failures, and that government can intervene effectively to overcome them. Thus, an active, interventionist government is required to ensure that markets are functioning correctly. More libertarian types tend to both see fewer market failures and, more importantly, believe that government is not very effective in intervening to correct problems. It's only very large, very obvious cases where government can help, and those are far and few between. Some never see them at all.
So I would characterize the problem slightly differently. It wasn't market fundamentalism per se, it was the wrong type of market fundamentalism. There was too much of the second type, and not enough of the first. That is, those who believe that markets function poorly when there are substantial deviations from ideal market conditions and that government is needed to correct these problems lost the ideological battle several decades ago to those who believe in the second type of market fundamentalism -- one that minimizes government involvement in the economy. We see this in the gulf, we see this in the financial crash, and we see it in other areas of the economy as both economic and political power has been concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. And there has been little, if any resistance from regulators charged with ensuring that markets are free from the problems that can result from such concentrations.
I want government to intervene as little as possible, but the movement in this direction that began in the 1970s has gone too far. I thought the financial crisis would change this, that public and professional opinion would move back toward a more interventionist posture, and that the problems in the gulf would reinforce the change. But the tide hasn't turned as much as I expected. Perhaps this power is entrenched to a degree where it will be a long and difficult battle to reverse it, and it was too much to expect that things would change dramatically in such a short period of time. But it's still disappointing.