Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Friday, February 12, 2010 11:17 pm

Regulatory capture = dead people

Filed under: We're so screwed — Lex @ 11:17 pm
Tags: ,

“Regulatory capture” refers to the phenomenon in which a government agency that ostensibly regulates an industry or profession is in fact controlled by that industry/profession. One of the ways in which industries/professions capture their regulators is by hiring people away from the government agencies, often at multiples of their government salaries. The idea is that the private concern benefits by hiring people who know how a regulatory agency works but also know its weak points and pressure points, and who have relationships with the colleagues they left behind that may buy their new employer some wiggle room on regulatory issues or the strength/speed of enforcement thereof.

This is a matter of particular concern at the moment because of the 19 (at current count) people who have died in mishaps caused by sticking accelerators in Toyotas. It would seem that erstwhile government regulators hired by Toyota have been meddling for quite a while in government efforts that might have prevented those deaths:

Former regulators hired by Toyota Motor Corp. helped end at least four U.S. investigations of unintended acceleration by company vehicles in the last decade, warding off possible recalls, court and government records show.

Christopher Tinto, vice president of regulatory affairs in Toyota’s Washington office, and Christopher Santucci, who works for Tinto, helped persuade the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to end probes including those of 2002-2003 Toyota Camrys and Solaras, court documents show. Both men joined Toyota directly from NHTSA, Tinto in 1994 and Santucci in 2003.

While all automakers have employees who handle NHTSA issues, Toyota may be alone among the major companies in employing former agency staffers to do so. Spokesmen for General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC and Honda Motor Co. all say their companies have no ex-NHTSA people who deal with the agency on defects.

Possible links between Toyota and NHTSA may fuel mounting criticism of their handling of defects in Toyota and Lexus models tied to 19 deaths between 2004 and 2009. Three congressional committees have scheduled hearings on the recalls.

Well, it’s nice that Congress is scheduling hearings on the recalls, but what needs to happen is hearings on the phenomenon of regulatory capture. How many people are dead prematurely or maimed because of it, in incidents ranging from stuck car accelerators to food poisoning to workplace mishaps? How much is it costing taxpayers/consumers? How might we prevent it?

But since corporations will be paying for political campaigns from here on out, and American journalism has been weakened by its corporate ownership when it isn’t weakening itself by buying into demonstrably false narratives on the virtues of a “free” market, don’t count on those questions being asked — by Congress or anyone else in a position of responsbility.

And if your Toyota’s accelerator sticks, you are on your own. So if that happens, depress the clutch pedal if you have one, or else shift into neutral, and coast/brake to a stop in as safe a place as you can find. Set your parking brake. Turn off your engine. Turn on your 4-way flashers. And then utter a silent prayer of thanks unto God that corporations are people, too.


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