When you punish oil 'barons,' you hurt everyday Americans

The Oklahoman Editorial Published: May 10, 2012

TWENTY-ONE years after “Dallas” ended its 13-year run on CBS, the myth of the malevolent oil baron lives on. Just ask President Barack Obama.

He doesn't call out any real-world J.R. Ewings by name in demonizing oil companies and their earnings. But Obama is more than happy to rerun episodes with class warfare themes whenever it suits him.

“Who shot J.R.?” was the question of the year following the 1980 “Dallas” season finale. Our question today is this: Who really owns the oil companies?

Diana Furchtgott-Roth, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, answers the question and adds the caveat that punishing successful “oil barons” actually punishes average Americans.

“As it turns out,” Furchtgott-Roth writes in a new Manhattan report, “oil and gas companies, like most large American companies, are not owned by a few wealthy individuals. Instead, they are owned by millions of ordinary Americans, often through their retirement savings.”

It follows, then, that any adverse impact on oil companies from Obama administration policies will attach to the millions of ordinary Americans that Furchtgott-Roth mentions.

Only about 1 percent of the shares of the five largest energy firms are owned by officers and directors of the companies. The rest are held by institutional investors and individuals, mostly in their retirement accounts.

More than 69 percent of ConocoPhillips, for example, was held by institutional investors as of Dec. 31. The largest single stakeholder was Vanguard Group, which manages funds in 401(k) plans, college savings instruments, mutual funds, IRAs, etc. If there's an oil baron in this scenario, it's a retired schoolteacher still paying into college savings plans for her grandkids.

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