Jonah Goldberg

Imagine this. You've built the better mousetrap. (Because lasers and pneumatic tubes are cool, let's imagine it uses them.) You've persevered through years of trial and error in your garage, enduring sleepless nights, the mockery of friends, the eye-rolling of family and the non-lethal laser wounds to the family cat. But it was all worth it. You take your invention and, with your last few pennies, manage to bring it to market. It's a smash hit. It starts flying off shelves. You earn back the investment in raw materials and maybe something close to compensation for your time. Now you're ready for the big payoff. There's just one thing left to do: make an appointment with the regional Reasonable Profits Board to find out how much of your windfall is reasonable for you to keep.

Picked by Congress nominally for their expertise in analyzing the mousetrap industry but actually for their vampiric lust for entrepreneurial blood, members of the Reasonable Profits Board will determine how much of your already-taxed profits cross the "rational threshold."

Now that's the American dream!

What this would mean for Mousetrap 2.0 may not be a big concern for members of the board, but odds are you'll start to feel like you're working for them.

Replace "Mousetrap" with "oil," and you have a good idea of how some in Congress want to bring the oil industry to heel. Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pa, is offering his "Consumer Reasonable Energy Price Protection Act," which would make oil companies supplicants of a Reasonable Profits Board. Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer and Harry Reid, proposed their 25 percent windfall profits tax this week, while Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Alpha Centauri, has been calling for a 100 percent windfall profits tax rate for some time. Hillary Clinton is barnstorming the country talking about a windfall profits tax that will not only stick it to the corporate fat cats but will "pay" for a gas tax holiday.

"Windfall," of course, is just another word for "undeserved," which is why windfall profits are defined as the profits earned by someone other than you. If we were honest with the people having their profits yanked away, we'd call it the "well-earned and richly deserved profits tax."

Now hold on a second, cry the unreasonable-profit confiscators. That analogy is bogus. ExxonMobil isn't some garage-workshop Horatio Alger. ExxonMobil is a cold and impersonal multinational corporation!

To which I say: Exactly!

So why are Democrats keen on treating oil companies like they're comic-book villains and the windfall profits tax is just a well-deserved enema that will teach Big Oil to pay its fair share.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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