Memo to Rand Paul: Free Enterprise Isn't Free

I'm guessing Dr. Rand Paul is unmoved by the BP oil spill live feed posted by the House Energy Independence and Global Warming committee. I imagine he views photos of oil coated wildlife with similar equanimity. After all, as Dr. Paul stated last week, accidents happen, right? And, if you follow his logic, the real tragedy of the BP Oil Spill is not, in fact, the destruction of sea turtles or fragile aquatic habitats, or even the loss of revenue and jobs for the fishing and tourism industries. Rather, according the Senate hopeful from Kentucky, the disaster in the Gulf underscores the Obama Administration's persecution of poor, defenseless British Petroleum.

In an interview with Good Morning America, Dr. Paul called the president "un-American" and referred to governmental efforts to hold BP accountable for the ecological mess a "boot heel on the throat" of the oil giant. He goes on to offer that, "[m]aybe sometimes accidents happen," referring to both the Gulf oil spill and the recent coal mining disaster. If I'm inferring correctly, the candidate apparently believes the government should not seek to recover damages from BP, despite the fact that the company's failure to prevent this accident is projected to cost U.S. businesses and citizens billions.

Dr. Paul agreed to the Good Morning America interview in order to clear up earlier comments that seemed to question the constitutionality of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. But the interview veered off into a range of issues that cut straight to the candidate's philosophy regarding the role of the federal government in regulating private industry.

In one particularly telling clip, the candidate indicated to Fox News that he had little use for either the EPA or OSHA, and complained they should get out of Kentucky's coal mining business. Yet, when pressed for a response to his own words, Dr. Paul visibly bristled, and stammered out some talking points that did more to muddy his position than to clarify it.

Conservatives, when discussing military matters (and guns, of course) like to pithily state that "freedom isn't free." I'd like to remind the senatorial candidate from Kentucky that neither is free enterprise. The natural resources of the both the oil deposits and the Kentucky coal mines are exploited by energy companies because the government provides the leases, and or healthy subsidies that help to finance such production. Dr. Paul seems to have no problem with government greasing the wheels for energy production, but then objects that placing safety and environmental restrictions on companies whose very function depends upon government investment is somehow unfair.

This is typical of the extreme, pro-business conservative. They lobby for tax breaks, subsidies, improvements in infrastructure, and manipulation of energy prices in order to keep their costs low. But I have yet to hear Rand Paul, or any other advocate of unfettered free markets, advocate that corporations build their own energy or telecommunications grid, pave their own roads, dig their own wells, inspect their own raw and finished materials, or provide their own police and fire protections. All of these, which are gifts from taxpayers via the federal government, bring bigger profits and increased productivity to corporations large and small. And the "small government" crowd accepts said gifts without so much as batting an eyelash.

However, ask these same corporations to clean up their own messes, to provide safe working conditions for their employees, to pay a living wage, to reasonably accommodate those who would patronize their businesses with an access ramp or an elevator, or to modify their business practices to preserve or protect some of our most treasured resources and habitats, and suddenly the small government crowd behaves like petulant, ungrateful children (see Wall Street Reform).

This is the problem with Rand Paul, and also with the larger Tea Party movement. They want all the benefits of large government, but with none of the costs or inconveniences associated with it. That's not conservatism. That's just magical thinking.