The Wall Street Journal lays out Obama’s problems in an excellent editorial. Here’s the best bits:
Mr. Obama didn’t bother to define “reasonable,” and neither did Dick Durbin, the second-ranking Senate Democrat, when he recently declared that “The oil companies need to know that there is a limit on how much profit they can take in this economy.” Really? This extraordinary redefinition of free-market success could use some parsing…
Maybe they have in mind profit margins as a percentage of sales. Yet by that standard Exxon’s profits don’t seem so large. Exxon’s profit margin stood at 10% for 2007, which is hardly out of line with the oil and gas industry average of 8.3%, or the 8.9% for U.S. manufacturing (excluding the sputtering auto makers).
If that’s what constitutes windfall profits, most of corporate America would qualify. Take aerospace or machinery — both 8.2% in 2007. Chemicals had an average margin of 12.7%. Computers: 13.7%. Electronics and appliances: 14.5%. Pharmaceuticals (18.4%) and beverages and tobacco (19.1%) round out the Census Bureau’s industry rankings. The latter two double the returns of Big Oil, though of course government has already became a tacit shareholder in Big Tobacco through the various legal settlements that guarantee a revenue stream for years to come.
Seems the definition of “windfall profit” depends on who you are. Case in point:
If Senator Obama is as exercised about “outrageous” profits as he says he is, he might also have to turn on a few liberal darlings. Oh, say, Berkshire Hathaway. Warren Buffett’s outfit pulled in $11 billion last year, up 29% from 2006. Its profit margin — if that’s the relevant figure — was 11.47%, which beats out the American oil majors.
Or consider Google, which earned a mere $4.2 billion but at a whopping 25.3% margin. Google earns far more from each of its sales dollars than does Exxon, but why doesn’t Mr. Obama consider its advertising-search windfall worthy of special taxation?
So, a “windfall profit” is a profit of 8% or greater by an industry with the word “big” in front of it. Big Oil, Big Pharma, Big Tobacco, Big Liquor, Big LASIK– you got it. Just so long as it’s not a donor to Obama’s political campaign.
As much as he proclaims to be the agent of Change, it seems he’s more an agent of the Status Quo.