A few days ago General Motors agreed to pay a $35 million fine to the U.S. Department of Transportation as a result of alleged "ignition switch defects" that are claimed to have caused 13 deaths and 42 crashes. Expect numerous other regulators and prosecutors to pile on in coming weeks and months.
Well, US DOT, who owned GM when all these deaths were occurring? In substantial part, that would of course be the U.S. government. Agents of the same U.S. government then waited a barely respectable 5 months or so after the government sold its final stake in December 2013 to announce this settlement. But didn't the problem occur on the watch of the U.S. government itself?
A long article by Bill Vlasic in the New York Times on May 17 traces the timeline of the story, and essentially accuses GM's in-house legal department of a long-running cover-up. It's the usual Times narrative of the greedy corporation hiding safety problems to avoid having to pay settlements all while the innocent die. According to Mr. Vlasic, GM had a "wall of secrecy on the switches," ultimately cracked by a combination of lawyers for injured plaintiffs and brave government investigators. Somehow Vlasic manages to write the whole long article without once mentioning that the government was the largest owner of GM during most of the time in question, and even the majority owner of GM during some of the time in question.
Here's the timeline: In approximately 2006 GM made some major changes to the ignition switches in its Chevy Cobalts -- changes that may have caused the problem. It then conducted a series of investigations of the switches from that time through and including 2013, but according to Vlasic maintained its "wall of secrecy" during the whole stretch. Meanwhile, in July 2009, as a result of the GM bankruptcy, the government came to own some 61% of it. That stake was reduced to about 26% in 2010, 19% in 2012, and ultimately to zero in December 2013.
So the government was the largest beneficiary of the cover-up, and sold out just before the problem came to light. How exactly does it get to maintain its status as some kind of innocent bystander, let alone have its investigators claim to be brave sleuths bringing wrongdoers to justice?
The real news, of course, is that these 13 deaths are a very, very small part of the government killing large numbers of people and getting a free pass from all concerned. And no, I'm not talking about military campaigns. Consider, for example:
- Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards, or CAFE. Since 1975 the government has set ever-increasing levels of mpg fuel economy that car manufacturers must achieve. The current standard for cars is an average of around 30 mpg. The way to achieve that standard is to make your cars somewhat smaller and somewhat lighter -- in other words, more dangerous when someone gets in an accident. J.R. Dunn at the American Thinker in 2011 summarized studies from the likes of the Harvard School of Public Health, the Brookings Institution, USA Today, and the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration, which showed a range of estimates from about 41,600 to 124,800 excess deaths over a thirty-five year period (1975-2010) resulting from the CAFE standards. Suddenly the 13 ignition-switch deaths at Government Motors pale into insignificance. So what's our next move? Why, of course, to increase the CAFE standards to an average of 54 mpg. This increase was announced by President Obama in August 2012 and is already in place and scheduled to take effect by 2025. Hundreds of thousands will die, but don't worry, this will help us to "address global climate change."
- The FDA. The mission of the FDA is supposedly to make sure that our drugs are "safe and effective." In practice, they are obsessed with the idea that even one person might die from taking an approved drug, and don't care one whit how many hundreds of thousands of people die while waiting year after year for an approval to come. According to this report from the Independence Institute, prior to 1962 statutory revisions giving the FDA increased authority, the average time from filing to approval of a new drug was 7 months; more recently it has been around eight years. Various studies estimate the number of deaths due to this "drug lag" in the hundreds of thousands -- a huge multiple of the number that may have been saved by keeping unsafe drugs off the market. As just one example, tens of thousands of deaths have been attributed to the FDA's multi-year delay in the 1970s and 80s in the approval of "beta blockers" to prevent second heart attacks. And then there is the FDA jihad against "off label" marketing -- that is, selling a drug that has been approved as both safe and effective for treatment of a condition that was not the condition for which the FDA approved it. There is no legitimate health reason to restrict off-label marketing; this is about putting a higher priority on preserving the privileges of the regulators than on the lives and health of the people.
To come up with other examples of the government killing large numbers of people, you only have to think about it for a few minutes. How about the current VA scandal, where vets were put on waiting lists and kept there without treatment until they expired? Or the government's promotion of the "low fat" diet over several decades, now starting to be recognized as a major cause of obesity. Or the collateral damage of the drug war. The government's current campaign to take cheap energy and electricity away from the poor hasn't gotten too far yet, but has the potential to kill many hundreds of thousands, if not millions. So overall, while I'm a little upset that the government is getting a free pass on the 13 GM deaths, that's really the smallest part of this problem.