What have the oil companies done wrong?

Marketplace Staff Mar 12, 2007
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What have the oil companies done wrong?

Marketplace Staff Mar 12, 2007
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KAI RYSSDAL: All you have to do is mention Halliburton or any other company remotely involved with oil and consumers start seeing red. Commentator Ben Stein says that anger is mis-directed.


BEN STEIN: Crude oil prices are on the rise again after a sharp fall. That means prices at the gas pump are up. Naturally, my liberal friends are muttering darkly about punishing the oil companies and calling oil company executives to Congress and torturing them.

I don’t get it. Why do we hate the oil companies? What have they done wrong? They don’t set the price of oil. That’s set by traders, guys who make a million dollars a year before they’re out of diapers.

The days when the Rockefellers gathered in a smoke-filled room and fixed prices are long, long gone. The image of a group of reactionary Texas oil men with Stetson hats conspiring to extort money from us consumers for their black gold are totally in the past and they probably never existed at all.

Oil is a worldwide commodity. Exxon-Mobil, Shell, and all of the other companies we see as we fill up have almost zilch to do with the price. That price filters up to us drivers after big bites for refining, transporting and taxes. None of those bites’ prices is fixed in a monopoly setting. It’s all done in a free market and the oil companies are just little fish in that immense pond.

Or maybe we hate them because burning oil causes pollution. But, hey, it’s us consumers who are doing the driving and the heating, not the oil companies. Is it because they sometimes make big profits? But those profits belong mostly to pension funds. And anyway, “profits” is not a dirty word in this country.

Whatever, as my teenage son says. It just doesn’t make sense to hate the oil companies. Their products are as vital to modern life as air and water. It makes about as much sense to blame them and hate them as it does for wayward teens to blame all of their problems on Mom and Pop. We’ll start making headway when we grow up.

RYSSDAL: Actor and economist Ben Stein writes for the New York Times — and plenty of other publications. Bueller? Anyone? Bueller?

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