The GM Ignition Switch Crime

A grieving Laura Christian (far right) appeals to GM and America for justice (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
A grieving Laura Christian (far right) appeals to GM and America for justice (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

W.J. Astore

Truthout has a powerful story on the GM ignition switch design flaw, the one that killed at least thirteen people, and possibly as many as 29 (or more).  If many are so eager to support capital punishment for mass murderers, why not the death penalty for GM?  GM knew about the problem with their switch, but apparently decided it was more cost effective not to engage in a recall that would cost the company roughly $1.5 million, or 57 cents per car.

As Truthout suggests, the big problem is no one is held responsible for corporate murder.  Some money washes hands in various lawsuits, perhaps a big fine will be levied by the government, but no one goes to jail, no specific person is punished.

This sad and tragic fact put me to mind (once again) of Don Henley’s song, “If Dirt Were Dollars,” in which he sings:

“These days the buck stops nowhere/no one takes the blame/but evil is still evil/in anybody’s name.”

If corporations are people, as the U.S. Supreme Court decided, and as Mitt Romney reminded us while he campaigned for president, can’t we punish them as people?

The death penalty is popular in many places in America — it allegedly deters the worst crimes, its supporters claim.  Isn’t it time for an ignition kill switch to be activated against GM?  That would certainly deter future companies from valuing their bottom lines more than the lives of their customers.

But I’m dreaming, of course.  Corporations are citizens, my friends, except they are much more equal as citizens than you and me.  How can we measure their value?  Look again to their financial bottom lines, and how much “free” speech that allows them to exercise in the halls of power.

And so it goes in the land that equates speech and honor with money and power.