As I write this, it’s August 9 and BP appears to have finally stopped the oil leakage from the Deepwater Horizon well.
It came almost three months after BP’s drill platform exploded, killed 11 of it workers and created one of the biggest man-caused environmental disasters in this nation’s history.
Or was it? Now some scientists are saying the leak was not nearly as catastrophic as some have insisted. Others say it’s too early to make predictions, one way or the other. Frankly, I don’t know what to think, but I find it hard to believe that much oil just disappeared or evaporated.
Still, a perusal of news stories by the major media would suggest the crisis was over and that once again, life was good on the Gulf coast.
One AP story noted the return of tourists to beaches and tourist resorts, praised the marked reduction in visible damage from the oil and even described the surface oil still out there as a “colorful sheen” on the water.
Hey! Maybe this oil spill isn’t so bad after all. Heck, it even creates a ‘colorful sheen!’”
Still Americans are angry and they aim the lion’s share of their wrath at BP. The Obama administration has finally been held accountable by many Americans as well, though only reluctantly by some.
But it’s BP that catches most of the blame and rightly so. Their history of putting profit before safety and environmental responsibility is well-documented and irrefutable. Even other oil company giants hold BP in contempt. Now their greed and shortsightedness will make them pay dearly.
But who is the company? When we talk about oil company greed, what and who are we really talking about?
Two years ago, when the price of gasoline approached five dollars a gallon and oil companies were experiencing record profits, we Americans were livid. Their greed was shocking and shameful. And indeed nothing infuriates me more than the extraordinary salaries the CEOs and other officers of these mega-corporations rake in. It is immoral.
Ultimately, however, most corporate profits don’t go into the pockets of their senior officers.
Corporations are owned by their shareholders. The men and women who run these companies believe their first responsibility is to them. It is a sign of the times that corporate leaders feel very little loyalty to their own workers – to the thousands of employees who, by their hard work and sweat, help make the company profitable to begin with.
But who are the shareholders? Are they predominantly the ‘rich weasels’ we’d like to believe they are?
Last year economist Robert J. Shapiro tried to find out. Shapiro served in the Clinton administration as undersecretary of commerce for economic affairs and was a key economic adviser to Al Gore and John Kerry in their presidential campaigns.
He is also a co-founder of the Progressive Policy Institute, a “think tank” affiliated with the Democratic Leadership Council.
His findings are interesting. Shapiro discovered the following:
• Almost 43 percent of oil and natural gas company shares are owned by mutual funds and asset management companies that have mutual funds. Mutual funds manage accounts for 55 million U.S. households with a median income of $68,700.
• Twenty seven percent of shares are owned by other institutional investors like pension funds. In 2004, more than 2,600 pension funds run by federal, state and local governments held almost $64 billion in shares of U.S. oil and natural gas companies.
These funds represent the major retirement security for the nation’s current and retired soldiers, teachers, and police and fire personnel at every level of government.
• Fourteen percent of shares are held in IRA and other personal retirement accounts.
• Forty five million U.S. households have IRA and other personal retirement accounts, with an average account value of just over $22,000.
In other words, whether we knew it or not, many of us had a vested interest in and greatly benefitted from oil company profits, while we simultaneously cursed them for their excesses.
If you’re a school teacher, a city employee, a cop, or if you maintain a small IRA mutual fund, most likely, at least some of your retirement income comes from oil company profits.
Last month, as BP stocks plummeted, UK citizens were in panic mode as they watched their retirement income collapse. Same story, different country.
In the end, pointing fingers at the oil companies and holding them entirely responsible for all these disasters is disingenuous and dishonest if we don’t acknowledge our own complicity.
First, as long as we create the demand and as long as we exhibit an insatiable desire to live the excessive consumptive lifestyle we believe is an entitlement, oil companies will keep looking for the product.
Second, as long as we invest in these companies and expect a great return on our investment, we can hardly complain about the cost of gas or condemn their actions.
As Shapiro points out, these guys are working for us. When you complain, whether you want to admit it or not, you’re biting the hand that feeds you.
This is the complicity that no “progressive” wants to acknowledge. Until we do, our credibility is laughable.
(Jim Stiles is publisher of the “Canyon Country Zephyr -- Planet Earth Edition” now exclusively online. He is also the author of “Brave New West.” Both can be found at www.canyoncountryzephyr.com. Stiles lives in San Juan County and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)