Friday, May 23, 2008
A down cycle of corporate conscience
Executives from America's top five oil companies testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee this week, taking a huge guilt weight off my shoulders by revealing that yes, it is possible to be a millionaire and a victim.
In between Senator Patrick Leahy's scathing sarcasm, these rich, white, well-dressed middle-aged men attempted to explain why, in the span of a three-month quarter, their companies managed to ratchet up profits more than 620,000 times the country's average annual salary - in the midst of a so-called oil crisis, no less.
For instance, last quarter their companies - Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp., BP America Inc., ConocoPhillips Co. and Shell Oil Co. - collectively reported $36 billion in profits, according to MSNBC. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., called that a lack of "corporate conscience." The oil executives called it an "up cycle."
Their profits in the double-billions are justified, the oil men said, because they need that money to hunt down, tap and refine new oil supplies to then prevent the probability of an all-out end-of-the-world scenario during what I'm assuming they'd call a "down cycle."
What's more, their profits come down to simple supply and demand - there's more demand, but not a lot of supply, and therefore, prices go up. They've been trying to tell people this would happen for some time, they said, but no one seemed interested enough to listen.
While I read their explanations in the news, off in the distance of my psyche, I heard the squeaky voice of the Three Stooges' Curly: "I'm a victim a' soycumstance! I'm a victim a soycumstance!"
Sure, any member of the middle class or working poor (and, it seems, Sen. Leahy) is bound scoff at such ridiculous claptrap being passed off as a legitimate reasoning for why many of us can't afford a week's worth of gas. Morally, it's an abomination.
But economically, it's capitalism.
These men got into the business, presumably worked hard, and with tenacity and luck, assumed their posts at the top. Sounds a little like a dream I have frequently...an American dream...
From a capitalist perspective, these men deserve their just reward. And now, they make so much money that some of them, when pressed by Sen. Leahy, apparently couldn't even venture a guess as to what their salaries actually might be.
(That, by the way, is complete hooey. Anyone who makes that much money knows just how much is coming in and where it's going. I'd wager it's going to $6,00 shower curtains.)
For these men, capitalism proved to be a good deal. As for the rest of us, we continue to buy $4 gallons of gas, scramble on top of each other, assume a kneeling position, and form the pyramid of aching, dollar-scraped backs that enables these men to easily climb aloft and survey their vast empires.
I truly applaud Sen. Durbin for asking: “Is there anybody here that has any concerns about what you’re doing to this country with the prices that you’re charging and the profits that you’re taking?”
The answer: "We have a lot of concern about that."
Here's hoping the collective conscience of these very lucky men could be on the verge of an up cycle.