There is lots of discussion about how the current BP Gulf of Mexico situation is a “wake up call” for the government and for Big Oil. We said the same thing about the banks and the global economic meltdown of 2007/08. It is not that I don’t think that we will evolve our regulations over the coming months and years for both the banking industries (happening now in many jurisdictions) and eventually for Big Oil.
However, I doubt that it is really a “wake-up call” that will lead us to do anything terribly different going forward. At best, we will evolve some existing rules, generate reams more rules and regulations, and introduce lots more loop holes and exceptions which business will buckle down to comprehend and ultimately figure out effective ways to minimize or work-around any impacts.
In a recent George Monbiot article (21 June 2010) titled “BP’s Dumb Investors“, he argues the point that shareholders often don’t really want to know what is going on and are generally quite happy to accept the assurances of the specific company that “we know what we are doing — trust us”, as long as the financial returns from holding the stock are in line with expectations.
After all, if as shareholders we really wanted to dig in and more fully appreciate what risks companies were exposing us (and the broader set of stakeholders) to, most of the tools and information sources are there to provide a fairly clear picture of things for us. It is just that very often we would not really like what we “discovered”. This of course would create an ethical dilemma of sorts for us — could we really invest in these companies if we were truly “aware” of how they operated?
So frankly, it is much easier to keep our head in the sand, and then feign outrage and disgust when some company is found to be ethically wanting. We tell ourselves “never again” and then refer to the incident as a “wake up call” for some increased oversight, regulation, or what have you….
I recall being at the inaugural conference of “Future of the Corporation” (Boston, 2007) a few years back where Jason Clay from World Wildlife Federation stated: “It is impossible to wake up someone who is only pretending to sleep.”
That seems to say it all.