Svanberg, center, with other BP executives. The only things missing are ermine, wigs and canes. Photo by Associated Press
"I hear comments sometimes that large oil companies are really companies that don’t care, but that is not the case in BP, we care about the small people.”
Yes, he actually said that, securing himself the Marie Antoinette Award for revealing wealthy cluelessness. Meanwhile, a mole within BP tells Mother Jones that the contractors aren't actually doing that much of a cleanup, but they've got prostitutes. Rep. Joe Barton, a Republican from Texas, then actually apologized to BP because the Oval Office demanded they set up a fund to recompensate people for damage they caused.
Combined with the head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce promising to make the government pay for cleaning up a disaster caused by a corporation, a clear picture begins to form. It's worth reviewing an old word, often thrown around but little understood:
Pronunciation: \ˈpriv-lij, ˈpri-və-\
Etymology: Middle English, from Anglo-French, from Latin privilegium law for or against a private person, from privus private + leg-, lex law
Date: 12th century
: a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor ; especially : such a right or immunity attached specifically to a position or an office
The true meaning of privilege isn't in the oft-heard "oh god, you say that because you're so privileged" B.S you often hear in sophomore-grade political discussions. "Privilege" is literally "private law," when a separate set of rules develops for a group simply because they're that group.
That, better than traditional capitalism, explains what's actually going on here. In theory, CEOs get paid a lot of money because they're managing a complex organization and making a profit. In reality, CEO salaries have ballooned and, famously, lost all attachment to the success or failure of a company. Management can run a company into the ground and still expect massive salaries and bonuses, defended by their fellows, simply because they're of the same group.
Whenever regulation is suggested, it is an offense against free market principles. These are conveniently abandoned when one of their own messes up, and it is up to the government treasury to bail them out for the mistake. Bloody murder will be screamed, of course, at the mere thought of actual legal penalties for actions that greatly harm the lives and business of others. The "small people" (called peasants back in the day) should simply be happy to get anything from their betters. These attitudes, increasingly infectious in corporate culture, explains the odd defenses of BP.
This particular sort of privileged group has plenty of precedent in history; it is called an aristocracy. In one form or another, this is what it leaves in its wake: