Blame greed for rising prices
Americans paying more at the grocery store and gas pump are told that supply-chain issues related to the coronavirus pandemic and the Russian war against Ukraine are fully to blame. But, in truth, corporate executives are also exploiting these crises to make record profits and line their pockets.
Take the price of gas, for example. Major oil and gas companies raked in $205 billion in profits last year, and they’re using this windfall to further enrich their executives and shareholders. How do we know this? They’re openly bragging about it.
Chevron, one of the world’s largest oil and gas producers, just had one of its most successful years on record as gas prices went up. The company reported $5.1 billion in earnings in the final quarter of 2021 and spent $11.6 billion on stock buybacks and shareholder dividends last year. On a recent earnings call, Chevron CEO Mike Wirth said, “The last two quarters have been the best two quarters the company has ever seen.”
Shell CEO Ben Van Beurden was similarly high-spirited, describing 2021 as a “momentous year” for the company. And ExxonMobil CEO Darren Woods admitted to investors that “we are getting some advantage from the market today” and that the company’s earnings outlook is on track to double.
This is also happening in other sectors of the economy. Major consumer goods corporation Procter & Gamble raked in $21 billion in net sales in its second fiscal quarter in 2022 after announcing price increases in all 10 of its product categories. Meatpacking giant Tyson Foods raised prices on chicken, beef and pork by double digits last year. Amazon, Netflix, Starbucks and McDonald’s have all followed a similar pattern.
But struggling Americans don’t just want politicians to place blame — they want action.
Congress must crack down on pandemic profiteering fueled by corporate greed by passing legislation like the COVID-19 Price Gouging Prevention Act, which would protect vulnerable customers by giving state attorneys general the power to penalize companies charging “unconscionably excessive” prices for their goods and services.
For months, my group Accountable.US has been documenting how major companies across several industries are using the pandemic as an excuse to increase their wealth and line their shareholders’ pockets. Many CEOs have claimed they had no choice but to hike costs on consumers, then turned around and boasted to investors of record profits and healthy balance sheets.
Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have given their corporate donors a free pass to price gouge with impunity as they obstruct the president’s Build Back Better plan to address the supply chain crisis and bring costs down for families.
Legislators should pass a revised version of the Build Back Better Act, which would begin to make big corporations pay their fair share of taxes, including those making massive profits as they needlessly pump up prices. This would help lower costs for working families through major investments to alleviate supply chain disruptions and improve labor conditions.
Yet House Republicans unanimously opposed the Build Back Better Act and not one Senate Republican has indicated support for the bill.
Congress members who’ve relished playing the blame game on inflation and supply chain challenges face a choice: continue to give their corporate donors a free pass to exploit consumers during the pandemic, or start working with President Joe Biden to rein in this greedy behavior.
Republicans may find satisfaction in using rising prices to stick it to this administration politically, but it’s U.S. families that are paying the price.
— Kyle Herrig is the president of Accountable.US, a nonpartisan watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., and the head of the Congressional Integrity Project, a government accountability organization which focuses on the legislative branch. This column was produced for Progressive Perspectives, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.