Scandal follows Scandal but Who Needs Regulation?

Oh my goodness! Volkswagen, which distanced itself from its Adolf Hitler aided beginnings and the taint of using slave labor to become the largest automobile manufacturer in the world has exploded in the biggest manufacturing scandal of the year – maybe in several years but who can keep track?

From Upton Sinclair’s exposure of corporate meat packing fraud and filth to today, the rolls are filled with dishonorable corporate activity. I know, I know, not all of theM, but how many bad apples in a barrel before you don’t want anything to do with the whole lot?  Here are a couple of lists just to jar loose the memories. The Biggest 25 Ever (probably not, but all recent.)  And here’s a Wiki list.  It’s pretty short on Gilded Age scandals but still, many.

So, the problem is not, nor has ever been, one bad apple.  The problem is the set up of corporations to spin the “virtuous circle” of profits and greed while resisting any kind of regulation or oversight for the common good.  Today’s James B Stewart article in the NY Times makes the point about VW with plenty of detail:  it was not just the CEO Winterkorn, nor a rogue engineer somewhere.  It starts at the top, with the Board.

Volkswagen’s recent history — a decades-long feud within the controlling Porsche family, a convoluted takeover battle and a boardroom coup — has dominated the German financial pages and tabloids alike. This week, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung compared Volkswagen’s governance to that of North Korea, adding that its “autocratic leadership style has long been out of date.” It said “a functioning corporate governance is missing.”

Image result for volkswagen pollution

… I spoke this week to a longtime former senior Volkswagen executive, who agreed that a scandal, especially one involving emissions, was all but inevitable at Volkswagen. He cited the company’s isolation, its clannish board and a deep-rooted hostility to environmental regulations among its engineers. …  engineers felt that the politicians were guilty of rank hypocrisy, especially in the United States, also grumbling that electric cars make no sense as long as power plants are burning fossil fuels.

“There’s an attitude of moral superiority there,” he said. “The engineers think they know best.”

And, of course, it’s not new. Cheating, cheating, everywhere.  Because, who does the testing? Why those who have products to be tested! Wahoo!  Let the students test themselves…

Paul Krugman weighs in with a quick summary of very recent corporate scandals and hammers the drum for a return to reasonable regulation.

There are, it turns out, people in the corporate world who will do whatever it takes, including fraud that kills people, in order to make a buck. And we need effective regulation to police that kind of bad behavior, not least so that ethical business people aren’t at a disadvantage when competing with less scrupulous types. But we knew that, right?

Well, we used to know it, thanks to the muckrakers and reformers of the Progressive Era. But Ronald Reagan insisted that government is always the problem, never the solution, and this has become dogma on the right.

As a result, an important part of America’s political class has declared war on even the most obviously necessary regulations.

And ALL PRAISE! to the folks who found out:

Peter Mock, European managing director of a International Council on Clean Transportation and his American counterpart, John German, were sure that tests would show VW diesel to be clean!  They hired West Virginia University’s  Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions where Dan Carder was director and research assistant professor Arvind Thiruvengadam and his colleagues hoped to be able to publish a few scholarly articles from the test results.  No one had an idea that anything was wrong.  When the results started coming in they re-did and re-did the tests, doubting themselves.

The initial test results were ready a year ago to little noise except for the EPA which began testing of its own followed by European authorities.  Bam! The VW castle is barely standing. In fact, the whole diesel line of fossil fuels may die.  The silver lining? Perhaps, to reclaim the trust of the public, VW will lead the way in to renewable fuels. Perhaps.

And, by the way, were the code that was jiggered to falsely give superb emission reading “open code” instead of proprietary, some young nerds might have discovered the problem several years ago.

Libertarian Flim Flam

Paul Krugman is on to the “Libertarian Moment” being proclaimed in some quarters.

Is libertarian economics at all realistic?

The answer is no. And the reason can be summed up in one word: phosphorus.

As you’ve probably heard, the City of Toledo recently warned its residents not to drink the water. Why? Contamination from toxic algae blooms in Lake Erie, largely caused by the runoff of phosphorus from farms.

When I read about that, it rang a bell. Last week many Republican heavy hitters spoke at a conference sponsored by the blog Red State — and I remembered an antigovernment rant a few years back from Erick Erickson, the blog’s founder. Mr. Erickson suggested that oppressive government regulation had reached the point where citizens might want to “march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him outside, and beat him to a bloody pulp.” And the source of his rage? A ban on phosphates in dishwasher detergent. After all, why would government officials want to do such a thing?

And in his on-line blog he reminds us of the cloth from which Paul Ryan is cut:

Brad DeLong reminds us of the original Ryan budget plan — or actually “plan”, as I’ll explain — and emphasizes its dire warnings about a looming debt crisis that wasn’t. But pointing out that the debt panic was unjustified only gets at part of what was wrong with that Ryan budget (and all his subsequent proposals). For the fact is that it wasn’t a proposal made in good faith.


And, as to the idea that there is a libertarian tide rising, floating the boat of one Rand Paul, Ed Kilgore offers a corrective over at Talking Points Memo.

…to the extent there is something that can be called a “libertarian moment” in the Republican Party and the conservative movement, it owes less to the work of the Cato Institute than to a force genuine libertarians clutching their copies of Atlas Shrugged are typically horrified by: the Christian Right. In the emerging ideological enterprise of “constitutional conservatism,” theocrats are the senior partners, just as they have largely been in the Tea Party Movement, even though libertarians often get more attention.

And here, Kilgore offers a short summary of the above.

“Climate Change is Real” One Republican Says

Michael Bloomberg is one of the few known-to-be-a-Republican big names who has squarely talked about climate change and the dangers we are facing.  On Sunday, another Republican, well known, added his voice.  Henry Paulson, Secretary of Treasury when the economy went to hell, and now chair of the Paulson Institute at the University of Chicago, is unambiguous:

THERE is a time for weighing evidence and a time for acting. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my work in finance, government and conservation, it is to act before problems become too big to manage.

For too many years, we failed to rein in the excesses building up in the nation’s financial markets. When the credit bubble burst in 2008, the damage was devastating. Millions suffered. Many still do.

We’re making the same mistake today withclimate change. We’re staring down a climate bubble that poses enormous risks to both our environment and economy. The warning signs are clear and growing more urgent as the risks go unchecked.

This is a crisis we can’t afford to ignore. I feel as if I’m watching as we fly in slow motion on a collision course toward a giant mountain. We can see the crash coming, and yet we’re sitting on our hands rather than altering course.   Paulson : The Coming Climate Crash

I’m not sure who he means by WE but I’d offer that ‘my friends are sitting on their hands” would be closer to accurate.  There are plenty of US who have been consumed with the problem of too much CO2 and too little action for years, some for decades.  Paulson describes having the dry-heaves from tension during the worst weeks of the financial crisis.  It’s a familiar feeling, Hank — everytime another weather anomaly breaks out, everytime we hear an elected Republican say that climate change is a bogus, lied-up plot by tens of thousands of scientists anxious to curry favor with their funders.  [Who else could dream up such an accusation but those who are fully aware of how such liaisons work?]

And Pauslon has a solution, at least a point of view.

The solution can be a fundamentally conservative one that will empower the marketplace to find the most efficient response. We can do this by putting a price on emissions of carbon dioxide — a carbon tax.


And how is that going to come about?  Is Hank Paulson with Michael Bloomberg going to grow think-tanks and funding sources to counter the baleful influence of their fellow Republican deniers, the Koch billionaires foremost among them?  Has he heard any recent Heritage Foundation nonsense?

Their action to quantify the cost of inaction — the Risky Business project — is good, but great?  Enough?  Not by a long shot.

Paul Krugman’s response to Paulson’s Opinion piece was cogent, as usual.

[his] … was a brave stand to take.

But not nearly brave enough. Emissions taxes are the Economics 101 solution to pollution problems; every economist I know would start cheering wildly if Congress voted in a clean, across-the-board carbon tax. But that isn’t going to happen in the foreseeable future. A carbon tax may be the best thing we could do, but we won’t actually do it.

Yet there are a number of second-best things (in the technical sense, as I’ll explain shortly) that we’re either doing already or might do soon. And the question for Mr. Paulson and other conservatives who consider themselves environmentalists is whether they’re willing to accept second-best answers, and in particular whether they’re willing to accept second-best answers implemented by the other party. If they aren’t, their supposed environmentalism is an empty gesture.

So, thank you Mr Paulson but some of us have the dry-heaves about this.  Could we get this show on the road and put the pedal to the metal?  Otherwise the coastal populations around the world are going to be following in the footsteps  our end-of-ice-age ancestors, beating a retreat (in our millions) for higher ground as the rains keep falling and the  oceans keep rising. And there’ll be deaths aplenty as our grandchildren battle for food, shelter and dry ground.

And, by the way:

Air quality has improved significantly in the past 20 years because of federal and state laws and regulations, and researchers in North Carolina have found an associated decline in rates of death from respiratory disease.

Let’s call what we now have  carbon pollution and get on with cleaning it up…

Race, Ryan and Lazy-Day Hammocks

Commenting on Paul Ryan’s “remarks in which he attributed persistent poverty to a “culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working,” Paul Krugman points out that it wasn’t simply Ryan being inarticulate, as he later claimed, but that since the GOP can’t face the facts about poverty in America they respond to the only dog-whistle they understand: race — “the Rosetta Stone that makes sense of many otherwise incomprehensible aspects of U.S. politics.”

NY Times: Krugman

And for more on Congressman Ryan, who likes to hearken back to his famine-Irish forebears, have a look at Timothy Eagan’s justified take-down of the Ryan rhetoric about “culture of dependency”  and “a safety net that becomes a lazy-day hammock.”  It is the same stuff the British said about the famine-Irish, exactly.

The Irish historian John Kelly, who wrote a book on the great famine, was the first to pick up on these echoes of the past during the 2012 presidential campaign. “Ryan’s high-profile economic philosophy,” he wrote then, “is the very same one that hurt, not helped, his forebears during the famine — and hurt them badly.”

Said Ryan:

“We have this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work.” In other words, these people are bred poor and lazy.

Where have I heard that before? asks Eagan.

Ah, yes — 19th-century England. The Irish national character, Trevelyan confided to a fellow aristocrat, was “defective.” The hungry millions were “a selfish, perverse, and turbulent” people, said the man in charge of relieving their plight.

And the hammock?

“We entered a cabin. Stretched in one dark corner, scarcely visible from the smoke and rags that covered them, were three children huddled together, lying there because they were too weak to rise, pale and ghastly … perfectly emaciated, eyes sunk, voice gone, and evidently in the last stage of actual starvation.”

The Irish Famine, 1845-1849, (1900). Artist: Unknown

The Irish Famine, 1845-1849, (1900). Artist: Unknown

Krugman: Obama Gets Real

Paul Krugman in the NY Times:

Much of the media commentary on President Obama’s big inequality speech was cynical. You know the drill: it’s yet another “reboot” that will go nowhere; none of it will have any effect on policy, and so on. But before we talk about the speech’s possible political impact or lack thereof, shouldn’t we look at the substance? Was what the president said true? Was it new? If the answer to these questions is yes — and it is — then what he said deserves a serious hearing.


Much of our political and pundit class remains devoted to the notion that rising inequality, to the extent that it’s an issue at all, is all about workers lacking the right skills and education. But the president now seems to accept progressive arguments that education is at best one of a number of concerns, that America’s growing class inequality largely reflects political choices, like the failure to raise the minimum wage along with inflation and productivity.


Says Obama: “A relentlessly growing deficit of opportunity is a bigger threat to our future than our rapidly shrinking fiscal deficit.”

I hope Krugman’s  right, that Obama has turned a corner.  He’s got himself into such a maze of compromise delusion that he’s got many corners to turn to get clear of it.

Sociopaths Explain

Paul Krugman has found some wildly over-the-top complaints from the richest sociopaths in America.

Robert Benmosche, the chief executive of the American International Group [AIG — you remember that?]  “compared the uproar over [executive] bonuses to lynchings in the Deep South — the real kind, involving murder — and declared that the bonus backlash was “just as bad and just as wrong.”


Oh, there’s more!

GOP Off the Deep End

Interesting short post by Krugman on his blog:


In the short run the point is that Republican leaders are about to reap the whirlwind, because they haven’t had the courage to tell the base that Obamacare is here to stay, that the sequester is in fact intolerable, and that in general they have at least for now lost the war over the shape of American society. As a result, we’re looking at many drama-filled months, with a high probability of government shutdowns and even debt defaults.

Over the longer run the point is that one of America’s two major political parties has basically gone off the deep end; policy content aside, a sane party doesn’t hold dozens of votes declaring its intention to repeal a law that everyone knows will stay on the books regardless. And since that party continues to hold substantial blocking power, we are looking at a country that’s increasingly ungovernable.

Krugman Interview: Unethical Experiments on Human Beings

GOP ♥ Financial Fraud

From Krugman:

… the consumer protection bureau serves a vital function. But as I said, Senate Republicans are trying to kill it.

How can they do that, when the reform is already law and Democrats hold a Senate majority? Here as elsewhere, they’re turning to extortion — threatening to filibuster theappointment of Richard Cordray, the bureau’s acting head, and thereby leave the bureau unable to function. Mr. Cordray, whose work has drawn praise even from the bankers, is clearly not the issue. Instead, it’s an open attempt to use raw obstructionism to overturn the law.

What Republicans are demanding, basically, is that the protection bureau lose its independence. They want its actions subjected to a veto by other, bank-centered financial regulators, ensuring that consumers will once again be neglected, and they also want to take away its guaranteed funding, opening it to interest-group pressure. These changes would make the agency more or less worthless — but that, of course, is the point.

How can the G.O.P. be so determined to make America safe for financial fraud, with the 2008 crisis still so fresh in our memory? In part it’s because Republicans are deep in denial about what actually happened to our financial system and economy. On the right, it’s now complete orthodoxy that do-gooder liberals, especially former Representative Barney Frank, somehow caused the financial disaster by forcing helpless bankers to lend to Those People.

In reality, this is a nonsense story that has been extensively refuted; I’ve always been struck in particular by the notion that a Congressional Democrat, holding office at a time when Republicans ruled the House with an iron first, somehow had the mystical power to distort our whole banking system. But it’s a story conservatives much prefer to the awkward reality that their faith in the perfection of free markets was proved false.

Moyers and Krugman: The Deficit Dumb Down

On the Bill Moyers show, January 18, 2013

Krugman… there are I think two, two levels of opposition [to short term government stimulus ]  And one of them is just raw politics. We have a powerful political movement in this country that has a longstanding goal of rolling back all of the social programs, all the safety net that we’ve created. They want smaller government. They want reduced public services. Even the idea of public schools is very much under attack. They want it all to be switched to a system of vouchers. And they see this, you and I see a disaster, they see an opportunity. Here we have cash strapped state and local government. Good. Forced to cut back in government. They don’t want to do anything that will make it easier for them to, for government as we know it to continue. That movement controls one political party. And that political party controls one house of Congress. And that is enough to stand in the way of a lot of things we ought to be doing. Then there’s the second level, which is this odd coalescence of, I picked up the phrase from other people. Actually, from the blogger Duncan Black. “Very Serious People,” capital V, capital S, capital P.

Bill Moyers: You’re always writing that these Very Serious People. Who are they?

Paul Krugman: Yeah. The notion that someone, well, you can look are your random set of, you know Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson would be the quintessential Very Serious People. The editorial, practically the whole op-ed page, not all of them, but most of “The Washington Post.” People for whom this, it’s axiomatic that the budget deficit is the most important problem. And that what we really, really need to do right now at a time of mass unemployment is worry about the debt to GDP ratio ten years from now. And it’s a very hard thing to crack, partly because it’s not actually a rational argument. You very rarely, very rarely see on the Sunday talk shows, people asking, “Why exactly are you so concerned about the deficit right now?” That’s sort of a given. That’s a starting point. Everybody serious understands that, except that if you ask them why exactly, they can’t give you a very good answer.

Bill Moyers: What is the answer?

Paul Krugman: It’s partly that this is, it sounds serious. Never you know, never underestimate the importance of just plain what comes across. Start so it’s partly just it sounds serious, it’s the kind of thing that people who wear good suits are likely to talk about. Partly it is actually, of course, a deliberate pressure campaign