Once again, money talks and execs will walk
Back in 2008, when the U.S. government decided to bail out failing automaker General Motors, I was opposed. I thought the company deserved to fail and should have been allowed to fail:
GM has been a bloated, failing corporation for decades. While Americans turned to high quality, fuel efficient, stylish foreign cars — and usually paid a premium for them — GM continued to produce giant, gas-guzzling road hogs of questionable quality. They were slow to react to public demand, slow to improve their quality, slow to produce more fuel-efficient cars. Sure, maybe their quality is better now, maybe up-to-date high-mileage cars are going to be rolling off the assembly lines next year. But it’s too little, too late. Businesses that don’t respond adequately to consumer demand and market conditions either fail outright or go into bankruptcy.
But, in its infinite wisdom, the government persisted and bailed out the company. And the GM executives took their humongous bonuses and laughed all the way to the bank.
That was in 2008. But it turns out the company is still slow to react.
What some of those executives probably knew was that since 2004 they’d been selling cars with defective ignition switches. Switches that would have cost less than $1 each to replace. But they didn’t. And people died. GM has acknowledged 13 deaths and several dozen crashes. The mother of one of the victims says she has identified at least 29 victims. Finally, under fire from lawyers and Congress, GM has recalled 1.6 million Cobalts and other small cars to fix the problem — 10 years after they first learned of it!
A different problem, airbag failures between 2003 and 2012, related to some 300 deaths, caused the company to finally recall 1.33 million SUVs earlier this year. A little slow on that one, too. Apparently they won’t move on something until lawsuits and adverse publicity force them to.
On top of all that, it turns out the company isn’t even liable for wrongful deaths that occurred before its 2009 bankruptcy settlement (one of the “beauties” of bankruptcy). USA Today explained it:
As a condition of the taxpayer-financed, government-supervised bankruptcy restructuring of GM in 2009, the automaker was given immunity from product liability or wrongful death claims arising from accidents that occurred before it exited bankruptcy on July 10, 2009.
Finally, if all that weren’t enough, they appointed their first female CEO, Mary Barra, in January — just before the shit hit the fan, just in time for her to take all the heat in the current congressional hearings. That may not be what they intended — perhaps they thought she had plausible deniability — but that’s certainly what it looks like. Put the woman out front while the rich old men (the ones at fault) run for cover.
GM should have been allowed to drown in the mess of its own making back in 2008. And some of those executives, instead of getting big fat bonuses and golden parachutes, should now be in prison. But that’s the way it goes in America, in industry after industry. Deaths, injuries, flauting of regulations, and the attendant penalties and fines — all just the cost of doing business. Why should they care? The big boys never go to jail. Money buys everything, including immunity and impunity.
More GM on Pied Type: