The Great VW Scandal

Why is VW getting pilloried when GM gets a slap on the wrist?

Volkswagen installed sophisticated software known as "defeat devices" in the electronic control module of diesel vehicles issued between 2008 and 2015. This software was able to sense when emissions testing was in progress based on the position of the steering wheel, vehicle speed, the duration of the engine's operation and barometric pressure. Once the software picked up on these inputs, it went into a type of "test mode" when the front wheels of the car were on a dynamometer. This allowed emissions controls to run full-tilt during official testing, but emitted 10 to 40 times the legal amount while on the road...

The automaker could face U.S. fines of $37,500 per vehicle, the EPA told reporters last week. With around 482,000 of its diesel vehicles sold in the U.S. since 2008, this could mean a penalty of up to $18 billion.

Class-action lawsuits from customers are on the table, too, but VW could face more than civil penalties. Reports suggest the U.S. Department of Justice has launched a criminal probe into whether the company deliberately cheated emissions tests.

The media didn't trouble themselves to delve into history - possibly they're not aware of it - but VW was merely following in a time-honored American tradition.

Americans have always availed themselves of subterfuge as a way of getting around irritating government pettifoggery.  As far back as the 1920s, any real hepcat installed exhaust diverters to trumpet their approach when picking up a sheba, which could be flipped back to quiet things down if a flatfoot approached.  To this day, exhaust diverters are readily available on the Internet along with friendly denizens of forums to advise you on their proper use.  You can also buy special software packages to do more or less exactly the same thing as VW did.

These are all aftermarket items, installed in your own garage or backyard.  For cars to come equipped from the factory with regulation-defeating cheats is a bit different.  For one thing, it isn't fair to the other carmakers whose vehicles do obey the rules and suffer in comparison.  This is the sort of market dishonesty that even the staunchest libertarian would grudgingly admit to be within the proper purview of government.

Still, there's a question of perspective here.  What VW did was dishonest, true, but it is commonplace for individual auto-owners to do such things and generally not meet with legal action.  VW killed nobody and shoved a thumb in the eye of the arrogant bureaucrats who created regulations so irrelevant that they took seven years and a lot of research by some high-powered academics to notice they were being ignored.

Yet fines in the billions of dollars are being bandied about, and questions are arising as to VW's very survival.

In contrast, General Motors wilfully hid a known ignition-switch defect that led directly to 174 actual deaths and is merely being fined $900 million.  No executives are going to jail or even losing their jobs, whereas VW's CEO has already been handed his walking papers.

Despite what Bernie Sanders might have you believe, this isn't because CEOs always get off scot free.  This very week past, the CEO of Peanut Corporation of America and his fellow-executive brother were sentenced to decades in prison for actions which led to the deaths of nine people:

During the trial, prosecutors said the brothers covered up the presence of salmonella in their company's peanut products for years, even creating fake certificates showing they were uncontaminated despite laboratory results showing otherwise.

No conservative could possibly have a problem with this.  The crimes of the brothers were fraud, conspiracy, and reckless disregard for human life; it's quite proper that they pay the price of a good long stay behind bars.  It goes without saying that the Peanut Corporation of America is bankrupt and out of business.  We wish there was more such corporate punishment of both executives and companies!

Personally, we prefer capital punishment for committing a murder to say nothing of nine, but 28 years in jail is hardly a slap on the wrist when you're 61.  It's probably a life sentence unless his lawyers can buy him a pass for good behavior, and we can live with that.

So who's going to go to prison for the 174 people GM killed?  The peanut CEO faked safety certificates; somebody at GM must have done something similar or the cars never would have been certified as safe for sale or stayed certified once the problem became known.

Why aren't we even trying to find out?  Could it be that it's because GM was owned by the government at the time, and the blood trail might lead somewhere inconvenient?  Remember, Mr. Obama himself fired GM's CEO in 2009 and his bailout preserved their corporate culture which was apparently OK with killing people.  There's a reason we have bankruptcy laws - companies which do bad things ought to go out of business, to say nothing of government agencies which collude in wrongdoing.

Which brings us back to VW, which killed nobody, and did something that would be marginally legal albeit unorthodox if you did it to your own car.  Yet it's paying a massively worse price than GM, whose perfidy killed many people.

Perhaps VW didn't hire enough Democrat ex-politicians as senior executives, as GM did?  Well, VW has a vacant spot at the top right now; we'll see if they rectify this costly oversight.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Business.
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