Toward Economic Literacy and Fairness

Originally Published in Flourishing May/June 2013.

Many are the myths of economic journalism.  And the relative malaise we find ourselves in—with GDP growth rates half or less what they could and should be—is in no small part the result of these myths and their effect on the greater part of the American population.  Not the least of these myths is that America’s great oil companies don’t pay their “fair share”. 

Setting aside the definition of “fair” for a moment, consider the fact that three of the top ten U.S. income-tax payers in 2012 were large American integrated oil companies.  These three paid more in federal income taxes than the other seven (taxpayers) companies combined.  And, each of these oil companies paid income tax at higher effective rates than any of the other seven companies. (Source: S&P MarketScope Advisor.)

Now, to the issue of “fairness”:  In keeping with the advice of St. Jerome that we not look a gift horse in the mouth, we might want to remember that without these mighty integrated oil companies, we wouldn’t be traveling across our great country or circling our planet (the cleanest and most disease free it has ever been) at hundreds of miles per hour in greater comfort than any previous generation could have imagined; nor would we be living in relative luxury on land that Thomas Jefferson called “the immense and trackless deserts”.  Indeed, without these companies and others like them, we would be walking to our destinations alongside horses, oxen, and mules.  We’d all be clothed with animal skins, not cotton; and especially not any of the petroleum-based miracle fibers and fabrics that we so take for granted.  We’d be cooking our meals and warming our homes with fires stoked with manure, wood, and if we’re lucky, coal.  If we could afford it—and if the law would allow it—our homes and offices would be lit with whale oil.  The list is endless.  So, in regard to “fairness”, let’s not demonize the gift  horse. Instead, let’s grant these most productive of companies—entities that are essential to modern life and health—the immense respect they’re due.    mh