Oliver Willis

Don Blankenship & The Invisible Hand’s Knife In Our Back

An article of faith on the right is that at the end of the day, the free market will sort everything out via its invisible hand. We don’t need onerous government regulation and oversight because the incentives of the market will encourage businesses to do what’s best in pursuit of profit.

Like far left dreams of fully managed economies, this is nonsense.

A company like Massey Energy could make a decent profit will also safeguarding the safety of its workers, but it increases those profits a bit if it is lax on safety. Fossil fuel companies like Massey (and BP) get away with lax oversight because their huge profits allow them to buy politicians (like Mary Landrieu). So what if some workers die, profits are up!

The prosecution of former Massey CEO Blankenship for safety violations is notable for just how rare this sort of thing is. Generally speaking, business is allowed to run roughshod over the public and if they get caught (a big if) they pay a fine which they’ve already priced in to the cost of doing business.

The free market can’t work if there isn’t anybody enforcing its rules and providing oversight. The magical hand will not do that on its own.