Today Exxon Mobil announced an $11.68 billion profit for the second quarter of 2008, which works out to about $1,500 per second, as the media are reporting.
This statement reminds me of the kind of envy that dripped from Microsoft articles in the 1990s. Bill Gates' income was a similar order of magnitude, and I'd be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy watching him and other Microsoft brass get their feet put to the fire with antitrust questioning. Perhaps you enjoyed it too.
I don't feel the same way about putting the oil companies on the chopping block. I don't enjoy paying $4 per gallon any more than anyone else, but how is this Exxon's fault? It isn't!
News articles that make a point of calculating how much Exxon Mobil made per second last quarter are aiming to get readers feeling like the oil companies are handing it to them. Perhaps then they'll vote for legislators who will push for a windfall profits tax.
It all really boils down to jealousy. The have-nots will always want what the haves have, and they will encourage decision makers to enforce a moral obligation on the haves. The oil companies researched, explored, got drilling rights, built rigs, pumped, refined, and sold, and now we're mad that they're making a profit? Come on! We have a lot of our comforts and prosperity because these folks went out to find the oil and develop the refining technology. Before, though, they were selling it to us on the left side of the production curve. Now that we're around the peak, things are more expensive. That's not their fault. That's geology!
If coal becomes the fuel of choice later down the road, I suspect we'll direct our ire toward them. Or solar. Or wind. (Watch out NanoSolar and GE! We're coming to get you!)
Stringing up individuals and companies that bring the most value to the table isn't the way to encourage them to work harder for our benefit. But I'm thinking that there are enough people who would rather have someone take care of them than to be proactive about how they react to life's events that we'll see higher taxes on the rich and the productive. Then, we'll all be poorer.