Ecology and Economics29 May 2010 07:30 pm

When considering penalties which could be imposed on those found to be guilty in the Gulf oil spill I have a few recommendations. I want to preface the following by saying that I have spent over 30 years working with delinquent youth and their families. During these years I have witnessed and implemented many consequences for illegal and asocial behaviors which have been effective and even more that have been ineffective. It is with the knowledge gained from experience in these matters that I offer the following suggestions.

Corporations and commercial entities have rights under the law and in many ways are treated and protected as individuals. Yet, with rights usually comes responsibilities. One of the reasons that the people at the top of businesses make the money that they do is because they are ultimately responsible for the actions and decisions made by the organization they head. At the facilities I have worked at the supervisors, clinicians and administration are held responsible for what happens to the clients in their care. Those with credentials and position often are mandated to have liability insurance to help them weather any law suits due to negligence or bad judgment in the course of the execution of services provided by them or by those under their supervision.

With this in mind I’d like to apply these principles to the BP oil spill.

Monetary fines levied against BP does seem reasonable at this point, but would such fines, even if extensive, be effective consequences? First, I’ve read the monetary limits on law suits on corporations currently stands at 75 million. Now, even if this number is wrong, and fines and penalties were to rise into the billions of dollars I doubt if they would truly be effective as a punishment or a future deterrent.

First the fines would not even be equal to one years profit for a giant such as BP. This has one wonder if multinational corporations are too big to punish. Second, the fines would be absorbed by the corporation in general not directly affecting the wealth and comfort of the heads and decision makers of the corporation. Even if a corporation were somehow injured by the fines, those at the top would most likely be able to find similar employment at other major corporations.

My suggestion would be for the fines and punishments to be levied on individuals rather than the general corporation. The fines should have a direct effect on the wealth of the individuals in charge, such punishments would definitely send a message to business heads of all corporations that they need to act responsibly and act as an effective deterrent.

The fines and punishments should be levied to anyone who with decision making power in the realms of importance regarding the oil rigs. Anyone who is involved with the safety policies of the rigs and pipe lines should be evaluated on their level of culpability. Likewise, those who developed the insufficient back up plans and over all solutions to such a leak need to be held accountable. This would include the governmental agencies that license, supervise and monitor these endeavors.

In addition to fines I believe those found to be at fault should be ordered to give restitution for the damages their negligence and incompetence produced. I have a feeling that if they such individuals were mandated to work off the damage they inflicted on the entire gulf region they would change their ways and their cohorts would begin to act responsibly throughout all related industries.

Imagine how effective it would be if corporate heads were made to spend the next several years of their lives cleaning oil off shores and rocks. Imagine them doing the menial labor that will be needed to remove the oil, restore the local ecologies and ocean life. If these individuals are allowed to have the corporations they work for pay their fines and allowed to hire people to do the years of hard labor of cleaning up after their incompetence than nothing will change.

Will such measures solve the problem? Probably not, but my years of experience working with problem youth has taught me that effective consequences can make a substantial difference in people’s lives.

Many of my posts have dealt with my conviction that our society is in need of substantial structural changes. Our society has a tendency to promote and reward too many base aspects of human nature. Our society can only become as good as the system it functions under. This is not to imply that our society and its structure are evil or even bad, it is only to state that in order for us to move forward in any meaningful way, we need to build a better social structure.

If your goal is increased standard of living and quality of life for an increasing percentage of people across the globe our current economic and governmental structures are the wrong tool for the job. Therefore, though I have learned that incentives and success are always better tools than consequences and punishment, in our current structure I see the above punishments as the proper response to the current situation in the gulf.

When I’ve worked with kids and families I have been successful at helping them build healthy structures and habits in their lives where punishments are rare if ever needed. Yet, when healthy and effective structures are not in place, harsh consequences are often needed. Sad to say, that seems to be the current need of our society at this point in time.

The problem with harsh consequences is they are often delivered in anger and anger begets more anger. Only when a parent is able to deliver a consequence as a learning experience and not in anger to punish then a child’s education can begin, and qualities such as empathy and responsibility can be fostered and adopted.

Maybe many of you out there think I’m a dreamer, or too idealistic. Yet, all I can say is that I have witnessed many kids and families make amazing changes and improvements and though not perfect, have developed ways of being in the world that produce happy and productive people.

Jim Guido

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