A couple thought experiments

Suppose someone proved that, over the past ten years, you had been responsible for a dozen deaths, hundreds of injuries, and uncounted totals of property damage. You say you are shocked, dismayed, you had no idea any of it had happened. News of those deaths, that damage, was out there all the time, but you had managed to convince yourself that it was none of your doing, not your fault. You might say, for instance,

“I am very sorry for the loss of life that occurred, and will take every step to make sure this never happens again….Something went wrong with my process in this instance and terrible things happened.”

Twelve bodies, damages surely into the billions of dollars. Well, it’s good you did say something, but it may be difficult to sell that “I knew nothing” bit. Even if it’s true. After all, you’re in business where that kind of stuff is — pardon the casualness of it all — where that kind of stuff is routine.

Question number one: Should you be excused because you didn’t know? And if you are, what about those others, who did know what was happening but managed to pretend they hadn’t noticed? For real-life background on this, you can check here or here.

Or suppose prosecutors came and proved you had been responsible for many deaths and — as in the above example — an enormous toll in injuries and property damage.

And suppose those prosecutors, after long and arduous negotiations with your lawyers, said that for 1.2 billion dollars they would let you go. No more criminal investigations, and you’re on your own to settle with the victims.

Now, a billion-two might seem steep to the average person, but if you had vast resources, probably not a bad deal.

Question number two: How does it happen that prosecutors — in this instance, feds, are so easily bought off. Does this not carry a faint whiff of high-stake bribery? For real-life background on this, you can check here or here.

As you must know if you’ve read or heard the news in the past few days, these are not hypothetical situations. They’re real life, as it’s lived by General Motors and Toyota. The difference is that neither GM nor Toyota is a person in the sense you and I might use that word. But they are persons in the legal sense; they are corporations.

A corporation is, by my admittedly biased definition, a group of people banded together for mutual benefit, which benefit includes but is not limited to immunization from individual responsibility.

“The corporation done it, not me, so it’s stockholders — and the folks buying our products — who will foot the bill. Not me. And I can probably get a hefty tax write-off for it as well.”

Puts to shame the petty swindling and corruption practiced by illegal criminal gangs, doesn’t it?

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