Letting Leaders off the Hook

OK, so maybe they’re not “leaders.” Maybe they’re managers. The point is we’re letting people in positions of authority get away with murder.

OK, so maybe it’s not “murder.” Maybe it’s negligent homicide. The point is no one – no single person – is being held to account for the GM switch defect that has been linked to 124 deaths.

It’s a familiar complaint, familiar from the period subsequent to the financial crisis, when some institutions were finally held to account, but nearly no individuals. However when the wrongdoing – in this case a cover-up of a potentially lethal car part – results in injuries and deaths, to fail to put the blame directly where it lays, to fail to hold responsible the parties who specifically are guilty, is not only infuriating, it’s outrageous. It seems a flagrant abdication of justice.

The usually tough U.S. attorney for Manhattan, Preet Bharrara, defended the outcome of the case, saying his office had “to think long and hard about the appropriate resolution.” However even he admitted that listening to the families who had lost loved ones were “among his most searing moments” as a legal professional. More to the point, the judge who approved the settlement made clear that if there was “any doubt to the criminality of the conduct that doubt [was] put to rest.”

Still, for whatever legal, economic, or systemic reasons, it is the company that will pay the penalty for the wrongdoing. It is not anyone who was at GM, or who still is at GM, several of whom knew for more than a decade about problems with the ignition switch.

It’s this sort of thing that drives some of us nuts. It’s this sort of thing that breaches whatever the remaining trust between those in charge and those who are not. It’s this sort of thing that drove Maggie Beskau, whose daughter was killed in a 2006 car crash in Wisconsin, to exclaim when the settlement was announced, “I don’t understand how they can basically buy their way out of it. They knew what they were doing and they kept doing it.”




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