Thursday, December 01, 2005

The Social Utility of Oil Companies

For the Thanksgiving weekend I was staying at a friend’s house in Las Vegas. Over the course of the weekend, I made it to the various casinos Las Vegas has to offer. I was fortunate enough to win a fair bit of money, but that is the exception of course. The gaming companies spend millions and millions of dollars building and maintaining casinos, and this does not happen because they pay off the winners. Okay, well then what do the losers get in return for their gambling dollar? It’s hard to say, really, except for a cheap buffet.

And casinos are not the only ones either. By exploiting certain quirks in the human psyche, there are several kinds of businesses that make a very tidy profit without providing any useful goods or services. Besides the aforementioned casinos, there are horsetracks, payday loan stores, check cashing huts, Paris Hilton photographers, overindulged professional sports franchises, and probably some others I’m forgetting as well. And even if some of these businesses operate at the fringe of respectability, with a little bit of regulation here and there, they all enjoy the freedom to turn their dollar in peace. Why? Well, that’s just the way things are.

In any case, let me get to the point of this little diversion. For some reason, everybody and their brother feels right at home pissing on oil companies; environmentalists, Congressmen, convenience store patrons, editorial writers, whoever. I find this a bit disturbing: we all share the frustration of increasing fuel prices, but there are few if any business concerns as socially useful as oil companies.

I am not intending to exaggerate in the slightest, and a moment’s worth of thought should be sufficient to convince any open-minded person. Out of the ground, they bring us the very lifeblood of our economy, without which life as we know it would be over in days. And, they are literally the only way to get it, for the simple fact oil does not drill itself. And, to provide this miracle for humanity, they engage in manifold hours of hard, dirty, skilled, demanding work, often in obscure places no one else wants to go. And they make a good buck while doing it. But hey, I don’t work for free. Do you?

The next time you have occasion to remember all the things you are thankful for, say a little prayer for the oilman. He needs the company.

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