Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Socialistic Capitalism, the Probablistic Nature of the Universe, Cigarettes and Volkswagen

One of the problems with our Capitalistic economic system is its "convenient" Socialism.  By "convenient" socialism, I mean the situation where a company gets to keep its profits even as its products cause unbelievable damage and great expense to society at large.  Instead, the costs are borne by all of us, but not by the business that caused the mess, even it it deceitfully and willfully caused the damage and misery.

For example, for years tobacco companies knew that their products were dangerous.  As per Robert N. Procter, "The American Tobacco Company in the summer of 1953 took the extraordinary step of sponsoring a series of secret animal tests in the laboratories of the Ecusta Paper Corporation, makers of much of the world’s cigarette paper, with the goal of finding out whether it was the tobacco leaf or the cigarette paper that was causing all this cancer. Their conclusion, distributed only privately, was that tobacco—and not the paper—was the culprit... Tobacco industry insiders by the mid 1950s clearly knew their product was dangerous. In December of 1953, when Hill and Knowlton was exploring how to respond to the uproar surrounding the publication of carcinogens in cigarette smoke, one tobacco company research director commented in a confidential interview: ‘Boy! Wouldn't it be wonderful if our company was first to produce a cancer-free cigarette. What we could do to competition!’ Another remarked on how fortunate it was ‘for us’ (ie, for cigarette manufacturers) that smokers were engaging in ‘a habit they can't break.’  The mid-1950s cancer consensus was clearly (albeit privately) shared by the companies; and the reality of addiction was also starting to be conceded—at least in internal industry documents..." http://tobaccocontrol.bmj.com/content/21/2/87.full

The tobacco companies then went on to deny or claim disbelief in the cigarette/cancer link for decades after.  Procter reports, "As late as 1994 the CEOs of the nation’s seven leading manufacturers—the “Seven Dwarfs”—all stood up before theU.S. Congress and swore they did not believe that cigarettes caused cancer or were addictive. Then again, in 1998, PhilipMorris CEO Geoffrey Bible testified under oath, “I do not believe that cigarette smoking causes cancer.” Bible conceded a “possible risk” but not a “proven cause,” the distinction lying in a kind of legal having-it-both-ways: an admission strong enough to ward off accusations of having failed to warn, yet weak enough to exculpate from charges of having marketed a deadly product."  http://www.sciencefriday.com/blogs/09/07/2012/who-knew-what-and-when.html?interest=8&audience=4

Now you could argue that the tobacco companies have paid for their transgressions in the form of taxes which are now above and beyond ordinary sales taxes.  I don't think so.

An ordinary citizen criminal would have been stripped of everything they had if they had caused the same amount of damage and misery to society - they would have been left penniless if they had caused the death of millions of persons - all for the sake of gaining wealth.  They would have gone to jail and possibly been executed.

Consider that people DIED because of the denial and misrepresentations of the tobacco industry, yet no one was convicted of murder.  The tobacco companies and their executives got away with it because of the law's lack of understanding of the probabilistic nature of the universe - cigarettes don't ALWAYS cause cancer, they merely drastically increase its chances.  Cigarettes can only be said to have killed a percentage of smokers who got cancer, but not WHICH smokers got cancer from cigarettes.  Our willfully ignorant laws do not account for the certainty that cigarettes killed millions because the laws assume a deterministic universe - the law irrationally requires more information than the  universe can ever supply.  So tobacco executives and companies got away with killing millions because cigarettes did not kill every last smoker.  The tobacco company costs were conveniently "socialized."

Other industries and companies have taken their turns reaping great profits while costing society plenty.  It's currently Volkswagen's turn.  It has been discovered that Volkswagen, the world's biggest producer of cars, has deliberately planted software to reduce the emissions of some of their diesel cars during emissions testing only, but not during its use by drivers!  Yes, their clean diesels are actually up to 40% dirtier than the law allows in actual use.

"In May 2014, ICCT alerted the Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board about their findings. On Friday, EPA said VW could be liable for up to $18 billion in penalties for using software on almost 500,000 VW and Audi diesel cars that circumvented emissions regulations, unleashing a controversy that threatens long-term damage to VW's finances, leadership and reputation."  http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/09/22/us-usa-volkswagen-emission-idUSKCN0RL2EI20150922

True, they are subject to $18,000,000,000 in fines but what will become of the pollution their cars spewed into the atmosphere?  What will happen to the cars owned by drivers, many of them, presumably. who bought them because they were "clean" diesels?  And of course, what burden will Volkswagen and its executives bear for perpetrating this hoax, increasing pollution that undoubtedly led to at least one person's death from some form of respiratory disease - that is the problem with pollution after all - isn't it?  Will anyone in Volkswagen answer for the certain death and disease that their fraud has caused?

Although Volkswagen's decision to commit fraud, without a doubt, led to someone's disease and death, no one will be charged because the law does not understand or recognize the probabilistic nature of the universe.  The costs will be conveniently socialized.

Addendum, 10/3/15: The Associated Press did some research and here it is: http://www.sfgate.com/news/medical/article/AP-analysis-Dozens-of-deaths-likely-from-VW-6547657.php
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