Daniel Henninger’sWall Street Journal op-ed column today is mind-boggling. He comes out hard, so it’s easy to summarize: “It needs to be said. The rescue of the Chilean miners is a smashing victory for free-market capitalism.” His point is that the drill and the drill rig used for the miner rescue were developed by two smallish companies, right here in America. Other bits of technology were also created by companies! The free market innovates! Companies make things! So capitalism saved miners. Pretty much everything about this column is utterly undone by the facts.
The miners were also employees of a “free-market capitalist” corporation which is undergoing an (state-run!) audit and is likely going into bankruptcy. The miners were rescued by a government-sponsored intervention, supervised by Codelco, the state’s copper company, and by gifts from foreign governments. What’s more, the rescue seems to have convinced Chile that Codelco should remain state-run and not be privatized.
Likewise, the expertise of Nasa-the American government agency?-is credited with keeping the miners healthy.
The free-market capitalist company who ran the mine, Empresa Minera San Esteban, was an out-of-control, anti-union, government-regulation defying safety nightmare who allowed its workers to become trapped as par for the course of its worker mistreatment.
Many of the mines in Chile are actually owned by foreign entities.
So, the entire rescue was overseen and funded by the government. The president of Chile-a rightish billionaire, by the way, who now plans to raise taxes for foreign companies operating in Chile-has fired leaders who ran the government’s mining regulatory agency.
He also demanded a halt to mining in Chile (shades of the much-criticized U.S. government intervention after the Gulf Oil Spill!).
In short there has been no greater misreading of the actual politics of a situation ever.