What's the best way to punish BP for the oil spill?

Commentary about business and finance.
May 26 2010 6:28 PM

How To Punish BP

Fine? Boycott? Lawsuit? What's the best way to make the company pay for the oil spill?

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I've written recently about the concept of social license—which is essentially a permit to operate your business in our jurisdiction. It's difficult simply to stop companies from doing business in the United States just because we don't like them. Running afoul of regulations is a great American tradition—I'm sure your favorite restaurant has been nailed with health code violations. But perhaps we can take a page from the Department of Motor Vehicles and give companies like BP a formal social license. Every time it gets hit with a violation—an oil spill, leaky pipeline, a fatal refinery accident—the license holder would be docked a few points. Businesses that accumulate several points would be placed on probation—prohibited from expanding, making acquisitions, or getting in on new drilling opportunities—until they prove they can operate safely.

What else could work? I want to hear from you, Slatereaders,about other smart, satisfying punishments. All you lawyers, business ethicists, congressional experts, Louisiana residents, tree-huggers, oil executives who don't want to kill the golden goose, libertarians, and liberals: What can we do to BP that A) produces tangible punishment; B) helps ameliorate the problems the spill has created; C) sends a message to the industry; and D) provides incentives for BP and its fellow oil producers to act with greater caution in the future?

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Post your comments below or, if you prefer anonymity, send them to moneybox@slate.com; I'll publish and assess the most interesting ideas next week.

Prizes will be given!

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Daniel Gross is an editor and columnist at the Daily Beast.