Chevy leadership needlessly damaged its brand (Flikr).

The Volkswagen Scandal Was Entirely Preventable. Here’s How

The easy diagnosis is bad leadership–which is why so many people cheered when Peanut Corporation owner Stewart Parnell was sentenced as if he was a murderer. Nine people likely died because of his company’s misdeeds; it stands to reason that the man in charge should be accountable. Similarly many already speculate that VW CEO Martin Winterkorn should at least surrender his position. His cars might not directly have killed people–but the car emissions do. And there are more than a few consumers who wonder why the only person to suffer from the GM fiasco was whistleblower Bill McAleer, who lost his job at GM in 2004 after he raised concerns about the safety of GM cars.

These corporate failures are now so routine that no one can believe they are the product of just a few “bad apples” (the explanation George W. Bush preferred when describing the moral catastrophe that was Enron.) In all of these very large corporations, it is impossible to cheat emissions tests, or ship toxic peanut butter, operate dangerous sites or sell questionable products without lots of people knowing exactly what is going on. Many people knew sub-prime mortgages stank. Many bankers appreciated that the ratings agencies were spewing out nonsense. Plenty of engineers knew BP sites were dangerous and you need many people to cheat emissions tests if your cars are going to pass. So bad apples, as a description or explanation, won’t suffice.

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