Six hundred dollars.
That’s the figure I came up with when I tried to distill the meaning of General Motors’ nine hundred million dollar settlement with the US government to avoid being charged with knowingly selling cars with defective ignition switches — vehicles which I can arguably call pending death sentences — to you non-oligarchs.
“Why no jail time, or a trial?” would be a logical question to ask.
US Attorney Preet Bharara, during his announcement of the settlement, provided your answer:
Now, one thing people should understand about the law – there is actually no existing law specifically designed to impose criminal penalties for this kind conduct – the nondisclosure of safety defects by a car company.
Those of you who disagree with Bharara’s view on GM should read this:
We apply the laws as we find them, not the way we wish they might be …
Imagine you, escaping imprisonment for murder or manslaughter charges, after you knowingly sold a car with a faulty brake system to your neighbor — and that neighbor’s purchased death sentence was activated one afternoon on the San Diego Freeway.
General Motors not only committed a crime similar in magnitude to your imagination — and with the full awareness of the company’s senior executives — but the crime was also repeated at least one hundred and twenty three more times.
And let’s not neglect to mention that GM sold nearly two and a half million death sentences.
After learning about GM executives selling millions of death sentences, [allegedly] committing one hundred and twenty four murders
so far, injuring hundreds of others but paying its way out of potential jail sentences once, I looked up GM’s enterprise value: seventy eight and a half billion dollars.
In other words, GM paid the equivalent of one percent of its valuation — or one and one-tenth percent, to be more precise — to avoid being prosecuted for killing people.
Let’s return to your imagination, using Americans’ 2013 real world median wealth of fifty six thousand, three hundred and thirty five dollars, and GM’s settlement/value ratio as a proxy to estimate your cost to get away with killing people: six hundred and nineteen dollars.
In my calculation, I rounded the figure down to six hundred dollars.
This means — in your imagination, of course — killing someone and paying six hundred dollars to avoid jail time is, for many Americans, a small price to pay.
A price which likely wouldn’t deter other Americans from committing murder or manslaughter.
And for those of you who call my parallel between GM and your imagination unfair: aren’t corporations people these days?
song currently stuck in my head: “Superpowers (Hang Session Deep Mix)” – Vincemo feat. Crimson Blu