Thank Goodness For Villainous Oil

People in other businesses should send oil executives a nice holiday card. After the post-Katrina rise in gas prices, Americans devoted so much antipathy to Big Oil that they’ve become relatively indulgent toward other industries. In a recent Harris Poll (excerpted in the chart below), oil took the lead from healthcare as the sector Americans most want to see regulated more strictly. Sentiment for tighter regulation of drug companies has actually been ebbing since early 2003, when 57 percent of respondents wanted the government to lean more heavily on them. In fact, the constituency for stricter regulation of most big industries has shrunk during that period. For instance, the number favoring more regulation of the health-insurance sector is down from 59 percent in the 2003 poll; the number who want greater regulation of the packaged-food business has come down from 26 percent. It’s not as if people have developed a sunnier view of major industries’ ethics. When Harris asked respondents whether they regard each industry as “generally honest and trustworthy,” the new poll found negligible change in public opinion since 2003—when, as now, it was more negative than otherwise.