David M. Brown's Blog

July 28, 2011

Oil companies don’t have to explain to belligerent jerks how they spend their profits

Filed under: Economics,Media and journalism,Philosophy,Politics,Society and culture — davidmbrowndotcom @ 7:22 pm

An oil company has a regular ad preceding the PBS “News Hour” that features a working Joe named Joe who wants to know “WHERE DOES IT GO?”–all those profits the oil companies make. Other installments of the ad series feature other types of jerks demanding social investments from the oil companies.

Why, it goes right under the mattress, Joseph! Didn’t you know that?

We never see ads funded by defensive movie stars featuring Joe saying “Tom Hanks/Cruise/Whoever earned x million dollars on his last movie. WHERE DOES IT GO?” And what about Joe’s middle-class income? WHERE DOES IT GO? Inquiring minds want to know. Did he spend it on the things he’s “supposed to” spend it on, or just things that would make his life possible and easier?

The oil company sponsoring the PBS ad is pretending that the belligerent demand to know how oil companies spend their money is a legitimate one–that, somehow, if Joe doesn’t like how oil companies social-caretake their honestly earned profits, he is justified in being upset. It would make more sense for him to be upset if and when he has paid for a tank of gas and it turns out that water, not gas, is what the gas station sold him.

“I just paid $4 a gallon for gas. WHERE DOES IT GO?”

“It’s in your car tank, Joe. Is the car working?”

“Uh, yes…okay.”

You got what you paid for, jerk. What more do you want?

Ads like the PBS ad are produced in an attempt to defuse the notion that the oil companies are doing something wrong by earning money by selling their product. But you don’t make the moral case that you have a right to earn profits by selling something of value if you implicitly concede that you lack that moral right if this jerk Joe doesn’t like what you’re doing with those profits.

The owners of an oil company would be within their rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to take their latest profits, decide they’re sick of answering to the Joes of the world, and spend it all on Fluffernutter. They would be within their rights to take their latest profits, bank them, wind down operations, shut down the company. They would be within their rights to shut down the company and turn over to Joe the job of drilling, refining, distributing, dealing with asshole obstructionist regulators and politicians, etc. Have fun, Joe.

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