Oil Companies’ Record Profits Reveal How Capitalism Undermines Democracy

Tim Libretti, PhD
4 min readFeb 16, 2023
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“There you go again.”

These are the famous words Ronald Reagan spoke in responding to, indeed chastising, Jimmy Carter during a presidential debate in 1980.

This earnings season, we could say the same to big oil companies who did go there again by reporting record profits when Americans are struggling to make ends meet and key allies around the globe are also struggling to meet their energy needs as they cut back on securing oil from Russia, seeking to save democracy not just for Ukraine but for the globe.

Exxon Mobil reported record annual profit of $55.7 billion, smashing its previous record of $45 billion in 2008. Days earlier Chevron boasted its own annual earnings record, posting a profit of $36.5 billion for the year.

There they go again, these oil companies, shrugging their shoulders, disavowing any responsibility for what can only be described by any rational mind as price-gouging, as I elaborated in an earlier piece for PoliticusUsa. What they tell us is that attacking their profiteering fails to understand that global markets set oil prices and private businesses do not control prices. At the same time they warn politicians that any attempt to levy windfall profit taxes would discourage companies from investing in exploration and production.

We don’t have to look hard, though, to understand that “market forces” are not as “indifferent” or “impersonal” as corporations would like us to believe. We all know that oil producing nations and alliances such as OPEC do a pretty good job of regulating their production to manipulate market prices.

Additionally, while we often hear soaring gas prices attributed to that vague market dynamic named “inflation,” we don’t have to investigate too far or long to grasp that “inflation” is just another bogeyman invoked by voodoo economists.

Here’s what I mean. When we hear economists or the Federal Reserve talk about inflation in the current context, they tend to explain how the very low unemployment rate combined with a high number of job openings spurs rapid wage growth, leading companies to pass on these higher labor costs to the consumer.

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Tim Libretti, PhD

Professor of Literature, Political Economy enthusiast, Dad, always thinking about the optimal world