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The Profiteering Motive

Times of crisis can be glorious for some. The Great Depression bred its share of wealthy profiteers. The First and Second World Wars fostered many a multimillionaire. Over the bodies of millions, the returns for armaments companies were unparalleled. And during the current “cost of living crisis,” as it is so often dubbed, there are companies beaming at their profit margins even as they affect false modesty.

In the United Kingdom, for instance, earnings for household energy suppliers are booming, despite crushing bills. British Gas reported a staggering nine-fold increase in profits, from £98 million in 2022 to £969 million this year. Its parent company Centrica reported profits of £2.1 billion over the first six months of 2023, while Shell glowed with a profit of £3.9 billion for the second quarter in 2023.

In Australia, where the spirit of roguish exploitation remains strong, companies such as the national carrier Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank are rolling in cash. Supermarket outlets such as Coles have also announced huge returns. To them can be added such energy companies as AGL. While households are counting the dollars and cents for the weekly shopping and the fortnightly rental, corporate entities of a certain heft are thriving.

This is all fascinating stuff. For one thing, it does not necessarily attest to quality. It also brings out the market defenders who take issue with such terms as “price gouging”. “Profit outrage,” comes an editorial in The Australian, “has always been a fluid concept. It comes around every six months for listed companies, and for their CEOs it’s a balancing act.” Rather than asking the question why such companies are thriving as the commonfolk decline, the paper blames customers and workers for not defining “what an acceptable level of profit is.”

The company bosses such as Leah Weckert of Coles also argue that such profits are miniscule relative to the demands of shareholders. Much like a hospital regarding its patients as irritating fodder, she cites the wishes of the market as all conquering and relevant while ignoring the customer. Do shop with us, but we know where true allegiances lie.

The banksters are also advancing the arguments that their returns are hardly unexceptional. Despite the company’s earnings of A$10.16 billion in cash profit, the Commonwealth Bank’s chief executive, Matt Comyn, prefers the long view. “Our profitability has fallen substantially in the last decade and is currently lower than a number of international markets.” How terrible for him, given the company’s remorseless cutting of 251 jobs from its IT, Business Banking and Retail Baking Services roles.

What is unacceptable is the extent these companies seem to derive their profits even as they slash their employment base and offer unspeakably poor services, all in an effort to consolidate their dominant share of the market. Talk of competition and the balm of reduced prices has ceased to be relevant in the food, banking, insurance, energy and aviation industries. Behind the profits lie sackings, euphemistic restructuring, thinning, and the incidental benefits of war.

Reassured in their dominant position in the pecking order, companies can behave appallingly. The service on Qantas is often an abomination, a brattish, shabby excuse for an airline. Despite that, it remained the sole beneficiary of government assistance in the airline business during the global pandemic, the guzzling, pampered Australian icon. To show its gratitude, the “Flying Kangaroo” became a beast of even greater indifference.

In 2022, the airline company made losing luggage, cancelling flights with a drunk’s compulsion, and keeping people waiting on calls matters of routine. Those seeking refunds were repulsed, frustrated and often ignored. And don’t even begin to mention their hopeless frequent flyer redemption system.

The financial pundits also took note of the tarnished brand, looking beyond the social media storm and understandable fury from the Transport Workers Union. (The latter took the company to court over the sacking of 1,700 ground staff during the pandemic.) The Australian Financial Review revealed “anecdotal evidence that the brand damage is getting worse. It has spread to the elite C-suites of Australian business.”

In 2023, Qantas found itself very much in the pink. The 2023 financial year, the company recorded a A$2.5 billion pre-tax profit, raising the question as to what the appropriate profit returns in such cases would be. The controversial, outgoing CEO Alan Joyce, in a typically unconvincing public relations spray, suggested that such earnings were ordinary, given the last “normal” profit in 2019.

His successor, Vanessa Hudson, was also unmoved, seeing it as a logical outcome of solid planning. “All of the work we have done during COVID in terms of restructuring our cost base, we are going to see that as fares come down … with capacity coming back, that our cost position is going to materially improve going forward.”

The Joyce-Hudson rationale barely survives scrutiny. The company’s higher fares, its structural stripping to the value of A$1 billion and its return in invested capital, up from 18.4 per cent in 2019 to 103.6 per cent in 2023, has even prompted the question as to whether there is a more than a bit of over-earning taking place here.

It’s little wonder that the heads of such outfits have attracted revulsion. Joyce, so devoid of empathy he is bound to become an Australian university chancellor, even suffered an egg and toilet paper attack on his family home in July last year. But the atrocious and incompetent are long in business, and far from being put down, they survive, striving to fight another day and announce, with pride, the next round of profits. Shouldering them will be desperate customers and unwilling taxpayers, aiding the whole affair. Market competition, as it so often tends to be, remains the great hoax of economics.


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  1. Harry Lime

    Never have the ‘elite’ few been so bloated by the success of market economics at the expense of so many ‘mums and dads’ who are having the shit kicked out of them by this system of wholesale thievery,and more gallingly enabled by the political class who are alleged to represent us.That most definitely includes our nothing government ‘led’ by the beige,and increasingly irritating Albanese.The shit coming down the poorly maintained highway is going to steamroll the lot of us.Even the filthy rich will have nowhere to hide.

  2. Canguro

    Ah yes, the straw man argument; the demands of shareholders take precedent over the actual sources of income. How this perverse logic gained traction is an utter mystery, not to ignore the misery, pain and gloom feted to those whose hard-earned dollars end up in the vault of the corporations; nay, sneered at, recipients of poor service and declining standards – think the abysmal fall of Qantas as a rolled-gold provider of safe and trouble-free passage across its routes, now routinely cancelling flights, losing luggage, outsourcing baggage handling and plane maintenance and service to off-shore providers, think the supermarket duopoly of Coles & Woolworths routinely making staff redundant, forcing consumers to do their own checkouts of goods purchased, closing down in-store facilities like the meat sections where you could talk to an actual real live staff member, as opposed to dismally scanning the shelves of vacuum-packed meat products in the hope of finding something attractive, think the banks with their obscene obsession of trying to outdo each other in terms of how big a quarterly or yearly profit they can post, all the while closing branches and reducing customer interface points and forcing, in some cases, clients to travel hundreds of kilometres to find an actual open branch where they can talk to bank staff, think Bunnings and its footprint spanning the nation at the cost of hundreds of small hardware businesses, local shops where you had an actual relationship with the proprietor and staff, people who knew you and cared about you, along with the dozens if not hundreds of small independent nurseries who also formerly made a reasonable living from the local plant shoppers. It’s totally fucked, and it’s a massive shame that Australians are forced to live under these monopolistic gorgons and do business with them.

    This pitiful set of circumstances is, apparently, all good with the major corporations and their conscience-less CEO’s and boards; a cabal of crooks in suits siphoning up their multi-million dollar salaries and bonuses on the basis of how big the profits are; ‘oh, they’d say, we’re doing nothing illegal’, and it may be so, but it’s 100% amoral and socially destructive. But fuck it, who cares, we’re all good and the shareholders love us! If this is the best that capitalism can do, bring on the revolution.

  3. Roswell

    Does anybody else remember the good old days when Qantas and the Commonwealth Bank were both publicly owned?

  4. ajogrady

    The $400billion AUKUS deal is Albanese’s and Labor’s Achilles Heel and will drive Labor’s “true believers” and young voters elsewhere with their vote. Albanese, the Astral-American, is proving to be a warmongering pimp for war.
    Albanese lacks the self-confidence of a Gough Whitlam or a Don Dunstan, who routinely risked their careers by advocating progressive policy reforms. His commitment to the ill conceived bogus AUKUS deal stands in stark contrast to the ethical leadership of the late Simon Crean. At the time, Mr Crean’s opposition to John Howard’s craven commitment to the Iraq war was a rare and inspiring
    example of statesmanship and integrity in leadership.
    Prime Minister Howard had committed Australia’s young men and women to a war not yet declared, knowing all along that you couldn’t pull them out. It was done without the mandate of the Australian people, the Australian parliament or the United Nations.
    It was an act of a subservient Australian leader keen to abide by the wishes of the US imperium, whatever its wisdom and whatever the implications for international peace and security. Albanese’s AUKUS deal shows no signs of Crean’s acumen and insight but all the signs of Howard’s folly and poor judgement.
    Albanese Labor’s
    few attempts at reforms so far have been limited by timidity and insidious incrementalism, rather than making a bold break from the old politics. In fear of the Murdoch mob, it lacks ambition to free Australia from the grip of grifters exploiting regressive tax avoidance schemes and government subsidies to monster industries like the mining sector. Labor’s powerful right wing is dominated by the likes of Richard Marles. Marle’s old, white and stale politics is writ large and is a massive handbrake on Australia progressing to its full and prosperous potential.
    Albanese’s invidious $400billion AUKUS deal will turn what should have been a 3 to 4 term Labor government into minority government by the next election.
    Voters who anticipated the Albanese government would be a courageously progressive government have so far been totally disappointed. They are unlikely and unwilling to be voting Labor next election.

    Labor’s serial betrayal of Australia

    All’s not quiet on the home front

  5. Steve Davis

    “Market competition, as it so often tends to be, remains the great hoax of economics.” There was a parcel of hoaxes at the heart of free market ideology, all equally untrue and equally pernicious. But competition possibly covered more ground than the others.

    It was not only businesses that were supposed to benefit from competition, workers were going to be better off also. Why? Because by having to compete with each other to get ahead, we would become more resilient, and this would be reflected in a more resilient economy as a whole. Instead, workers have to strive harder just to keep their heads above water.

    As for a more resilient economy, this all came out of Thatcher’s UK, and take a look at the UK economy now. There’s only two stats that you need, to judge the value of Thatcher’s economic reforms. When she left office both unemployment and child poverty were higher than when she took office.

    In the case of Australia, I’d bet my next pay-packet if I had one, that homelessness is higher now than in 1980. But hey, we have a solution to that — just buy the homeless a swag !!

    And the alleged wonders of competition was worse than a fantasy from the start. It was a lie. The true regard of economic elites for competition can be seen in their intolerance of alternative economic and financial models. The horrors that the US inflicted on Central and South America in the 80s, and still ongoing, was driven by fear of alternative economic models.

  6. Steve Davis

    ajogrady, you’re quite right with “Albanese lacks the self-confidence of a Gough Whitlam or a Don Dunstan, who routinely risked their careers by advocating progressive policy reforms.”

    Albo’s a very decent bloke who’s been in parliament too long. He’s been institutionalised.

  7. New England Cocky

    If the Labor governments of the 1980s could not afford to keep the Commonwealth Bank publicly owned, so they had to sell for ”the good price” of $2.50 per share mainly to foreign owned multinational corporations, how come CBA shares are now selling at about $100.00 each?
    If the $368 BILLION USUKA sub debacle is so good for Australian voters, then why are so many of those same voters homeless, living in their cars or sleeping on the streets?
    The Albanese LABOR government moves with all the speed of a sleeping snail to protect former rogue COALition politicians while reneging on too many of the policies that were promised before the 2022 election. Treasurer Jim Charming pontificates without reforming the too many taxation concessions to corporations, Minister for Defence Richard Mediocre sells Australian sovereignty for some third rate outdated war materiels for use by the USA against PRC China, our biggest trading partner.
    Remember Iraq and ”The Great Wheat Debate” in which representatives of the Australian Wheat Board were pilloried by the Australian and USA (United States of Apartheid) governments for dealing in Iraq in wheat using Australian built & owned bulk handling facilities ….. only to be replaced by a whingeing American wheat lobby and losing those same bulk handling facilities to the Americans for no compensation.
    American parasitic capitalism has little to recommend it to an egalitarian society that was once Australia but now has vanished as the corporate executive class bails out with huge financial parachutes to retire at the beach leaving the Australian economy gifting too many tax concessions to the foreign owned multinational corporations plundering our natural resources without paying very much, if any, taxation.
    When a country has the US as an ally why does it need any other enemies?

  8. Harry Lime

    Cocky,I second, third and fourth your emotions.Shafting the public is now a bedrock of the political duopoly…a la fuck you jack…everybody for themselves.

  9. Andrew Smith

    An issue ignored is how or why do so many Australians look up to these elites and want to be associated with them; heaven forbid if there is a class system in Australia?


    You posted articles, but interesting to observe P&I’s these days which is symptomatic of issues e.g. low or no submission standards on articles as many avoid analysis/inclusion of credible sources (e.g. ‘CRAAP’ test) making it easier to ‘astroturf’, then the proliferation of pro Russian invasion articles vs. Ukraine, anti-US agitprop, yet relying on those from the US by grifters linked to US oligarchs eg. Sachs (Rockefeller) and Mearsheimer (Charles Koch), both also turn up in Hungary with Anglo RWNJ conservatives (horseshoe theory)?

    Regionally, it’s pro-PRC ignoring how Xi’s regime has behaved towards its near neighbours, and like other outlets of the ‘old left’ (?) using the AUKUS* potentially (four decade long) trap left by LNP, with RW media support, compelling the ALP to defend a PR exercise forever…. (IMO it will be modified downwards, as still unclear details), but precluding attention on other issues eg. faster transition from fossil fuels (vs. *back of a fag packet LNP inspired PR stunt looking for a defence strategy…)

    If one wants to be informed on local issues, PRC or Russia’s invasion, it would be via use of some acknowledged academic and expert analysis, but not ageing US nor local grifters, cookers & ‘tankies’ for sale…. becomes dumbed down into the ‘enemy of my enemy is my friend’; too easy to bypass e.g. very good European analysis on Russia-Ukraine-Europe vs. deferring to the RW Anglosphere, or US analysis…. anti-EU & dirty little secret, anti-NATO….

    By coincidence met an lawyer in his late ’30s yesterday, claiming to be a right on ‘Labor left’ but cited too many US RWNJs, masquerading as centrist analysts or professional journalists (of the ‘intellectual dark web’), in support of Russian agitprop, Koch and GOP interests… too easy, or have we simply become so dumbed down without realising; beliefs or sentiments over science and analysis?

  10. frances

    Disappointing confirmation of suspicions for this rusted-on Labor supporter (think ‘lesser evil voter’).

    It’s hard not to view Federal Labor as slowly but surely breaching the trust of those who voted for them – an aspect of ajogrady’s “insidious incrementalism” perhaps.

    How many of the hopeful who voted for Labor – a fragile new base impacted by the ruinations of the previous Coalition government (or simply wanting/needing change) – will now revert to cynicism, the last refuge of the disillusioned?

    As Harry Lime says, “the shit coming down the poorly maintained highway is going to steamroll the lot of us. Even the filthy rich will have nowhere to hide.”

    Do the incumbents have any idea what disillusion will do to their electoral capital? Or to the country at such a critical moment in history?

  11. Clakka

    Things are changing so quickly, and so they need to. The trickle-down, free-market, neocon, neoliberal and populist schemata of the past 40 years of enfranchised political dopes has nearly wrecked the world by concentration of wealth. In Oz, if not for the couple of interventions of Labor, and the luck of a growing PRC (now in big trouble), we would already be well down the gurgler.

    How to deal now with that strangled concentration of wealth? It’s not easy. Because of the accumulator’s inability, on their own, to generate the necessary spin of their accumulations, they seek to hold governments to ransom.

    Thank goodness we have, for the time being iron ore, coal and gas, a good universal health system, a social security system and a mandatory superannuation system. Albeit, we learn now that the latter is being gamed for tax avoidance and intergenerational wealth transfer – Labor are onto it, and we’ll see soon their initial reforms to bring it back to its original intent as a retirement fund. Incidentally, superannuation funds and self-funded retirees would be up shit creek without profitable corporations in which to invest, and that shit creek would accumulate to blow the social security budget to smithereens.

    Increasingly, rather than improving their businesses for the benefit of civil society, many large corporations and most multi-nationals have a compulsive sport, a legalistic, number-cruncher’s penchant for buy-outs, asset-stripping, share buy-backs, conglomeration and tax avoidance by jurisdiction jumping. They will of course claim that it’s eat or be eaten, and that they have a legal duty to act for the benefit of their shareholders; true, but a beguilement. In the end it will do them no good, nor will it be good for anyone else.

    Such corporate exploitative behaviour runs to competition-at-any-cost by governments only with their voters in mind, not the greater good. The game goes on despite America’s strong anti-trust laws which are now easily dodged. And despite Mme Lagarde’s appeals for universal government action to obtain a measly 5% taxation from the jurisdiction-jumping, tax haven dwelling, multi-national accumulator’s. It is seemingly best challenged by alignments such as the EU, but such alignments and ‘globalisation’ are giving way to ‘fragmentation’, due to the sponsored divide-and-conquer ‘culture wars’ – it’s a worry.

    We didn’t escape from the GFC, Labor managed it. But its effects never went away, and then via a ‘culture war’ con job we got a decade of LNP government non-governance, corporate schmoozing, free-marketeering, and hands in the air, trough manufacturing. An absolute wreckage of all systems and structures that might facilitate an advanced economy of ecological and social wellbeing, a deep cesspit of greed and corruption, and a denial in the face of the fast approaching climate apocalypse. Yet we got ‘crickets’ …. until the great pandemic awoke the majority from complacency and the drugs of bling.

    What a mess! A mess that cannot be cleaned by methods of old, nor by the waving of a wand or snap of the fingers. Lucky we got Labor. A government that immediately set to work taking action on its policies, whilst at the same time responding to the concealments left by the LNP, attending as best as possible to the vicissitudes of global inflation and supply chain issues, taking on ‘fragmentation’ by implementing layered plans for a multi-polar approach, structuring schemes for the massive time/cost/logistical process of energy and industrial transformation from fossil fuels to renewables, and major reforms to the education sector – social, vocational, and STEM. All whilst at the same time being faced with a decimated public service and the corrupt beguilements of the likes of the Big Four+.

    Compared to even a decade or so ago, the circumstances are far more complex, as is the language by which to understand them and address them, and this in the face of a ratcheting up of the divisive ‘culture wars’, the lies, the misdirections and character assassinations by the greedy hounds of the old status quo, and a shaky bank account. No wonder Labor’s wearing moccasins – so as not to provide fuel to the hounds. Or is it that the seeming silence, obfuscation and hedging equals guilt?

    Things are tough and gunna get tougher – whoa!

    From Saturday, some words to contemplate:

    Oh dear, ‘suicide capitalism’, China too ..

    Everything’s intergenerational, but is there a smiley place?

    Can Net Zero be said without scaring the horses?

  12. A Commentator

    Critics of Qantas are generally ill informed about the airline industry, and are often motivated by a political/industrial relations orientation, rather than by airline expertise.
    There are hundreds of airlines in the world and Qantas remains in about the top 10% for service and safety.
    The company continues to employ about 25,000 people in Australia, mainly unionised.
    It continues to support a significant apprenticeship program
    It is probably Australia’s largest employer of engineering, trades and technical skills.
    All this is brushed aside as the lemmings seek to have the full service airline follow the motor vehicle manufacturing industry into oblivion
    If you oppose an airline trying to make a profit, tell the government to change corporate regulation, don’t blame the company

  13. Phil Pryor

    Comments about Qantas are usually ill informed if they ignore criminality, lack of morals and ethics and cynically exploitative leadership, awful behaviour and attitudes reminding us of Madoff, Milken, even Capone. If one ignores basic decency and legality, anything goes in corporate bullying and bashing, especially if the corporation is large, revered, domineering, rather protected, self fixated. The good done by Qantas is good, but customers know how poor the service and punctuality is. We have been disappointed recently by deliberate planned rigged unfairness in Qantas being late (to Norfolk Island and return.) Stories abounded, none good about Qantas or Joyce, and from old regulars. Certainly, profits should allow for good wages, conditions, ongoing planning and reinvestment. Certainly, today’s news stories feature the evil intent of Joyce’s deceptions, techniques, irritating habits and practices.., not nice.

  14. Hans D

    @ AC, I usually tune out within 20 seconds the likes of Qantas boss, Joyce, but yesterday he made a good point that Aus should have a national carrier as a kind of transport security. I can’t think of a country that does not have a national carrier held as security asset for times of turmoil. Imagine we had no national carrier, the next pandemic comes along, who are we going to rely on to repatriate stranded citizens from all over the world? China Air?
    The argument I see being offered up against Qantas is that it is too expensive to fly now, post-plandemic. Hello, carbon footprint, anyone remember it and its supposed partner in crime, climate change? Or are Aussies special people who demand the right to waste as much energy as possible on inter-city, inter-state and international tourism – all without the awareness to understand those days are gone?

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