10/29/2005 03:59 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

And Now What?

They took the money and ran. And now what? That’s Exxon Mobil’s problem. Over the course of the last three months the corporation has been making about $75 thousand a minute.

That is not a typo. According to the Wall Street Journal, a publication to be relied on in these matters, Exxon Mobil has been making exactly $74,879.23 every time the second hand on your watch passes 12. In the last three months that works out to almost $10 billion in profit, all made fair and square according to the rules. Whether or not there is something in the rules which may need adjustment is another question.

When you make this kind of money selling something that nobody can live without, difficulties arise. Your stockholders are so happy and feeling so rich that they rush to get themselves new tattoos. On the other hand, your customers - that’s you and me - - are so unhappy and feeling so poor that even Republicans have begun to mutter about taking steps which on other days they would denounce as socialism and class warfare.

What is a rich oil company to do? It could make less money by charging less for its products but that is asking the tiger to change its stripes. Tigers don’t do that.

If Exxon Mobil were to announce it was thinking of making less money, CEO Lee R. Raymond would be lynched by his stockholders. In any case, how much less money should Exxon Mobil make? Would $50,000 a minute be OK? $40? What? Suddenly we’re into the old debate about what is fair profit and how is it determined. By gut feelings? By moral urges? How?

Another approach is to hide the money. With a few vulgar exceptions billionaires these days do not go in for display. They may build palaces for themselves on the scale of Saddam Hussein but they keep them unseen behind gated walls.

Corporations can cook their books to cover up either losses or profits. Either, though, is illegal, and when you have spent the money these outfits spend bribing politicians to write the laws just to suit them, what’s the point of breaking them?

Exxon will have to brazen it out and suffer the opprobrium unjustly slung at wealth while they count their money.