Liberty at the movies: Deepwater Horizons and Scully

Deepwater Horizons and Scully are two "based on a true story" films that raise interesting questions about goverment regulations and corporate accountability.

Deepwater Horizons deals with the biggest oil explosion in American history: the 2010 British Petroleum oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The film focuses on the crew of the oil rig.

The first part of the movie moves slowly as it focuses on the rig crews preparations for drilling, with a particular focus on their safety inspections. The film benefits from strong performances by Mark Wahlberg as Mike Williams, who is an oil rig worker engaged in a futile mission to convince the British Petrolatum executives that the rig has safety flaws.

Williams is joined in his efforts by the ship's supervisor "Mr.Jimmy," played by libertarian actor Kurt Russell. Their main nemesis is Donald Vidrine, a BP engineer who makes it clear his only concern is to minimize costs in order to get the rig out to the sea as soon as possible.

The filmmakers clearly wanted to make the case that the explosion was due to willful negligence on behalf of BP, but unless you are knowledgeable about the technical details of oil rig safety equipment and standards, much of the exposition of what went wrong will go over your head. However, the scenes depicting what happens after the explosion are incurably suspenseful and masterfully done. See this one in IMAX if you can.

While the film does not explicitly call for government action to prevent future spills, the portrayal of BP as willing to sacrifice lives and ruin the gulf in pursuit of profits seems clearly designed to make the audience support increased government regulation or even banning offshore drilling. This subtle message is amplified by the end credits featuring images of the workers and BP officials testifying at Congressional hearings, as well as mentioning that the BP engineers were found not guilty of manslaughter.

The film does not mention that BP has paid billions to the workers and their families, and to clean up the damage done to the Gulf. This is how it should be. Contra to the progressive propaganda, in a libertarian society individuals would be held strictly liable for any harm they do to another person or their property. The idea that businesses should be protected from full liability originated with the progressive notion that the role of government was to promote economic efficiency instead of securing individual rights.

As Campaign for Liberty Chairman Ron Paul wrote at the time of the BP spill:

Government could help by holding the appropriate parties fully liable for damages and clean-up costs. I am hopeful that efforts to do this are genuine and BP is indeed held responsible for all damages, not shielded by liability caps or reimbursed under the table by taxpayers. Unfortunately, a large sum of taxpayer money has been slipped into the upcoming supplemental bill for Gulf cleanup costs that should fall on BP. Taxpayers should not have to bail out a major oil company that has caused this horrible damage to our shores.

It should be noted that BP is not exactly a bastion of free market capitalism. Rather, they are very vested in acquiring government subsidies, favorably slanted policies, and competition-hobbling regulation. BP has even been a major lobbying proponent of cap-and-trade because of certain provisions in the legislation it could profit from. Considering who lobbies for them and what they lobby for, my concern is that attempts to hold them strictly and fully accountable could end up being nothing more than a shell game, with taxpayers ultimately holding the bag.

If the government's idea of action in crisis is to punish the innocent, bail out the guilty, and raise prices at the pump on everybody, we should want them to do less, not more. Recent polls show sharply waning support for offshore drilling. We still need oil, and a lot of good jobs depend on oil production. It is crucial to the functioning of our economy. But if accidents continue to be handled this way, it is easy to understand why so many see more cost than benefit to off-shore drilling, and that is also a tragedy.

Sully shows why government regulation is not a good idea. Sully tells the tale of Captain Chelsey "Sully" Sullenburger, the US Airways pilot who successfully landed a US Airways flight on the Hudson river.

Sullenburger become a national hero after the landing. So where is the conflict necessary to sustain our interest? The government investigation into whether Sully really needed to land the plane on the water.

That's right, government bureaucrats, none of whom were in the cockpit with Sully, are going to second guess his actions to decide if he really needed to land on the water, even though there where no casualties and passengers suffered at most minor injuries. Worse, if the bureaucrats decide that he committed a pilot error, Sully would lose his pilot license.

Director Clint Eastwood and star Tom Hanks do a good job of capturing the dichotomy of Sully's situation: hailed as a hero by the public while under fire by the government. Hanks is backed up by Aaron Eckhart as Sully's co-pilot.

While not as well done as Deepwater Horizon, Sully is a good film with solid performances.

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