Not that my faith in humanity was necessarily higher than anybody else’s, but I have a rather long standing reputation for being a push over in business. I have taken bad deals, given over way too much of my time for free, and allowed far too many sob stories to cloud my judgement ultimately wresting money from my grasp. Put simply, the needs of others have often outweighed the needs of the self. While that may be helpful in dealing with family, it isn't so helpful when others look to exploit such kindness. Still, though I remain reasonably educated on inequality, oppression, and corporate greed, something in the first episode of this documentary series hit me hard last night.
It started so small... The first episode outlines the Volkswagen clean diesel scandal from 2015 in where VW got caught somehow beating the emissions testing standards set by governments around the world in their TDI diesel line of vehicles. These standards exist to keep harmful nitrous oxide gases (NOx) out of the atmosphere and people’s bodies where they can cause irritation in human lungs that exacerbates or outright causes ailments such as asthma, respiratory infections, and premature death. In other words, NOx it’s what every other episode of Captain Planet is about.
VW used a “defeat device” to beat emissions testing in a lab environment. Little more than a software tweak, it took various NGOs conducting tests on the road in order to find out that Volkswagen results produced an average of 40 to 50 times more NOx than was shown in the lab testing. Dirty Money goes through the several years of back and forth running around that Volkswagen perpetrated before the German automobile manufacturer ran out of moves leaving them forced to come clean about the fraud they’d knowingly committed all the way from the highest levels of the company.
It hurt me physically. I could feel the knots tightening in my shoulders as I watched.
- The wasted time and tax dollars that could have been better spent.
- The pristine reputation built on lies that made it so difficult for authorities to pursue Volkswagen in the first place.
- The purposeful nature of false marketing shoveling lies to people that worked so well, Volkswagen retooled their terrible image in the 80s selling millions of vehicles as pollution free, clean burning alternatives to other rides.
- The idea that every other top tier car manufacturer (Mercedes, BMW) is knowingly fudging the emission numbers in Europe and know one can do anything about it.
- The fact that then-chairman, Martin Winterkorn seemingly faced no personal legal or monetary ramifications for any of this scandal that led to 500,000 buy backs and over 25 Billion being paid to the government. .
- The fact that VW performed bunk NOx tests on live primate subjects to prove... nothing really, since we already know it’s bad for living beings.
- The fact this is only 1 episode of 6 of Dirty Money!
- The fact that I personally know at least 2 people driving VW TDIs right now.
- The fact that Volkswagen sales have grown over the past few years since the scandal broke.
- ... the victimhood...
In Dirty Money, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman states, “The individuals purchasing these cars are victims. All of us who suffer from the extra pollution are victims. So is every company that followed the rules and trying to produce a car that followed these emission standards... In a way their competitors are also victims.” The pain of what is ostensibly a small lie to beat a government test affects nearly everyone regardless of the infinitesimal size of their own carbon footprint. Not only is it unfair, it’s dangerously unfair as they measured 38,000 yearly premature deaths from emissions testing failures alone. Worst of all, every time we think we were making a difference with our walking, biking, and protesting, whatever difference we think we might have made, was overtaken by Volkswagen’s deceit.
No Crying In Baseball, No Heroes In Business
I know I’m no hero. If I was in the top brass at Volkswagen’s at the time, who’s to say I wouldn’t have done the same thing? Would I have been willing to sacrifice my million dollar salary and perks for something that had likely been happening long before I arrived on the scene? I certainly wasn’t paying attention to the scandal when it happened, and still see fit to live in one of the most air polluted cities on Earth in Phnom Penh, Cambodia that most recently harmed me as it took 2 months to beat strep throat and assorted sinus infections. I’m certainly no environmental or clean air crusader.
What really dug into about Dirty Money though, was the audacity I had to ever take less than what I’m worth, allow people to skate with money they owed me for work I did, or do free “favors” for someone in business because of their perceived struggles at the expense of my well being. I always believe people are acting in good faith, offering the benefit of the doubt whenever possible. Now, thanks to a one hour documentary a German car company cheating emissions tests, I see my naïveté for what it is - a desperate desire to be liked by everyone. It isn’t calculated, nor helpful, and the only legacy it builds is one in which I repeat the same desperate, thirsty, detrimental motions again and again.
I admit, it’s an odd place to get a lesson about my own negotiation style and priority structure, but if I think it’s egregious that Volkswagen can lie to the government about the amount of people they help make sick and kill every year, then maybe I should start being more honest about what I want, and how I do business going forward. It may not make a hell of a difference in how corporations conduct themselves now, but at the very least, I’ll feel better about where my money comes from, how I spend my time, and the example I set. Those are pretty important parts of humanity too. Because it's not like VW is the only company who's bad faith directly affects our health. The US government even pulled out of the Paris Climate Accord! At the very least, I can take the lessons from the negligent evil and do better, more lucrative business.