Don’t call it a scandal: Volkswagen corruption is a syndrome – by Henry Mintzberg (Globe and Mail – September 23, 2015)

The Globe and Mail is Canada’s national newspaper with the second largest broadsheet circulation in the country. It has enormous influence on Canada’s political and business elite.

Henry Mintzberg is the Cleghorn professor of management studies at McGill University in Montreal and author of Rebalancing Society: Radical Renewal Beyond Left, Right, and Center.

What were they thinking? That’s the question on everyone’s mind as the Volkswagen crisis unfolds. That question makes a big assumption: that the company’s leaders were thinking about anything beyond their greed. About decency, about our environment, about their progeny.

Okay, so you will not buy a Volkswagen. A Chevrolet instead? Watch out for the ignition. Or how about a Toyota? Just duck as the airbag comes your way. Do you, by any chance, see a pattern? Have we been thinking?

In Europe, the United States, Japan and most everywhere else, something is going on. There is a level of sheer corruption that transcends the automobile industry.

How about banking in the United States and Europe? How about politics, most everywhere? Now Brazil is receiving a lot of attention, while the utter corruption of U.S. politics – private money in public elections, a level of lobbying out of control – carries merrily along.

A good deal of the corruption is criminal, and so can be prosecuted. So why don’t we prosecute corporate criminals, and not just corporate crimes? And why don’t we set the fines to indicate that corporate crime doesn’t pay?

If you wish to steal, don’t grab somebody’s iPhone; the government will throw the book at you.

Devise some financial manoeuvre – a little more clever than a Ponzi scheme – to defraud many people of much money. If you wish to commit manslaughter, don’t do it as the driver of a car; do it as the designer of the car. Executives and engineers at General Motors knew there were problems with those ignition switches, which led to multiple fatalities, yet they have walked off scot-free.

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