Principled Profit: The Good Business Blog

Musings on the world-wide movement for ethical business, frugal marketing, and how honesty, integrity, and quality combine with deep relationship building to create business success. By the originator of the Ethical Business Pledge campaign and award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First and five other books

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Oil Company Profiteering on Human Misery

Let me get this straight right at the beginning: I believe in capitalism. In fact, I write books teaching people how to be better and more successful/ethical capitalists, like my award-winning most recent book, Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First.

But my sense of justice is deeply affronted by this week's news. The Washington Post story says, in part,

High prices for crude oil, gasoline and natural gas helped Exxon Mobil Corp. to its highest-ever quarterly profit, $9.92 billion, up 75 percent from the third quarter last year, the company said yesterday.

Profit in the third quarter at the world's largest publicly traded oil company set an industry record, and its sales of $100.72 billion were the highest in a quarter by U.S. company, according to Standard & Poor's.
Exxon Mobil's third-quarter profit, $9.92 billion, was the highest the oil company had ever recorded.

Oil Industry Seeks to Cast Huge Profits as No Big Deal
By most familiar comparisons, the $9.92 billion profit earned by Exxon Mobil Corp. in just three months is almost unimaginable. It would cover all Social Security benefit payments for three months. It would pay for an Ivy League education for about 60,000 kids. It would pay the average list price...

Other oil companies have reported soaring third-quarter profits this week. Royal Dutch Shell PLC, based in the Hague, said yesterday that its third-quarter profit was not far behind Exxon Mobil's: $9.03 billion, up 68 percent. London-based BP PLC reported profit of $6.53 billion, up 34 percent.
(If that link goes dead, or you want other perspectives, here's a link to a whole bunch of other stories on the same theme. That includes the YahooNews story that says Exxon Mobil "rewrote the corporate record books.)

There's nothing wrong with profit in and of itself. But could this obscene 75 percent profit possibly have something to do with increases of up to a dollar a gallon at the pump in the immediate aftermath of Katrina, which followed closely on a wave of increases that added about 40 cents a gallon even before Katrina hit? Bodies were floating through the streets of New Orleans, tens of thousands were made homeless, and meanwhile, oil company profits--not revenues, but merely the money left over in these three months after the costs of operations--$25.5 billion just from the three largest profiteers--is equal to or exceeds the entire yearly economic output of any of the world's poorest 159 countries, from Jordan on down.

While I'm fully convinced that "peak oil"--the idea that the easy-to-get stuff is gone, and that the cost of oil extraction will continue to rise rapidly as supplies diminish, and that we had darned well better get off the petroleum economy--is a reality, this is price gouging, clear and simple. I don't have enormous sympathy for the single occupant of a mammoth and usually unnecessary SUV, croaking out all of 9.6 miles per gallon in the case of a Hummer S2, but I do feel sorry for the working stiff who bought an appropriate vehicle and watched fuel costs double. And then, factor in home heating costs, which are a big factor here in the Northeast--or cooling costs elsewhere. It ain't pretty.

Surely the time has come to make a commitment, as a society, to nonpolluting, nondepletable, environmentally friendly ways of powering our economy. The technologies--solar, wind, small-scale hydro, and others--have been around for decades and continue to improve. Let's leave the profiteers out of the loop.


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