I do not think I am indulging in the broken window fallacy to call attention to this story by Nicole Norfleet of Associated Press regarding the improved prospect that the Gulf oil spill has brought to non-Gulf shrimpers.

The broken window fallacy says that destruction is economically advantageous because it gives work to those who must restore the former infrastructure. In the case of the Gulf oil spill, the broken window fallacy would be involved if one cited the economic benefit now being given to those employed in stopping the oil leak and cleaning up its consequences.

This story tells us something rather different. A group of shrimpers that previously had been at a competitive disadvantage compared to the Gulf shrimpers has now (obviousy) acquired a competitive advantage. Consumers will, yes, have to pay more to get their shrimp from this second-string and less efficient source. And that is money wasted. But the sudden success of this back-up squad is a reminder of the capitalist system’s infinite flexibility. And who knows? Perhaps like some long-suffering understudy who gets his big break when the lead tenor comes down with a cold, these non-Gulf shrimpers may use their opportunity to permanent advantage.

Those who win or lose under capitalism do not always do so because they succeed or fail personally as businessmen. They may also win or lose because of how they are affected by hurricanes, tsunamis, revolutions, mass migrations, religious reformations, and, yes, industrial accidents. People should be compensated for economic damages, But the idea that an entire group of people would be enabled to sit out “a generation” of work (as one lawyer projected) until their “way of life” is restored is repugnant to the ceaseless change of the capitalist system.


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