In overturning Obama’s offshore drilling moratorium, Judge Martin Feldman pointed to the jobs that depend on continued deepwater exploration:
"Oil and gas production is quite simply elemental to gulf communities. Some of the plaintiffs’ contracts have been affected; the court is persuaded that it is only a matter of time before more business and jobs and livelihoods will be lost. The effect on employment, jobs, loss of domestic energy supplies caused by the moratorium as the plaintiffs (and other suppliers, and the rigs themselves) lose business, and the movement of the rigs to other sites around the world will clearly ripple throughout the economy in this region.”
Clearly, for Feldman and for others who support continued drilling, preserving jobs (and profits) in a tough economy is the top priority, perhaps even the only priority. Nevermind the eleven people who died in the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Nevermind the environmental damage that has already been done. Nevermind the fact that nobody knows how terrible and how widespread this catastrophe will get. And nevermind the fact that deepwater drilling remains a risky and uncertain business. We must continue production, goes the thinking. We must maintain profits, and we must preserve jobs – no matter what the environmental, health, or social costs.
Such an absolute emphasis on economics above all over factors is called economism. It assumes that the overriding purpose of human society is to produce and consume goods, and to build material and financial wealth – the more the better. Economism is why we measure an individual’s worth by their monetary assets, a corporation’s success by the size of it’s bottom line, and a nation’s strength by it GDP.
Now don’t get me wrong. As someone who has just weathered a brief stint of unemployment, I know what it feels like to have your source of income yanked out from underneath. I’m not saying that jobs are not important, and that in times of disaster such as this, we shouldn’t make preserving them a priority. The problem comes when we make jobs and industry the ONLY priority, and when our politicians and judges play the "job card" as if there is nothing else that should be guiding our decision making.
It seems clear that the environmental devastation of an entire region should take priority over the continued operation of an industry that is mired in corruption and recklessness. Perhaps it is fair that they lose some profits and some jobs as a result of this disaster.
Economism dictates that we continue drilling and perpetuate the production and consumption of oil that we have grown dependent upon. Common sense, however, dictates that concerns such as saving The Gulf of Mexico, overcoming our destructive oil addiction, and moving toward an overall path of sustainabilty should take priority.
Social critic Jay Albert Nock summed up the problem of economism like this:
I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western civilization will finally shatter itself. Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savor and depth, and which exercises the irresistible power of attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored of its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.