Slowly but convincingly, major businesses have learned they cannot avoid the strong arm of government regulators. Business tricks played with mortgages, pollution, exotic investment vehicles, money laundering, the Libor rate and price-fixing have all been met with huge fines. The fines levied on BP, major banks, VW, and certain other producers are proof enough.
These fines were well deserved and settlements, reached quickly even if wrongdoing was not openly admitted. The giant firms and banks seem more eager to move on rather than drag out cases, the bad publicity that goes with them.
Moving forward under President Trump, Prime Minister May and other new leaders, these enforcement actions may be fewer but any damage along with the progress is done. Future cases brought to the courts by tough regulators may be tempered by supposedly pro-business cabinet members.
The ultimate victims of all these corporate shenanigans were consumers themselves. The final cost of the fines themselves are no doubt being passed along to consumers. People sucked in the pollution from rigged diesel engines, faulty nuclear reactors and the oil spread over the Gulf of Mexico. People lost homes as a result of mortgage banking fraud. Ordinary taxpayers lose billions when the rich use tricks and loopholes to avoid paying their fair share of taxes.
Big businesses and banks may be less greedy moving forward. CEOs and CFOs appear to be showing caution with regard to loans and investing more in green solutions. These steps may appease regulators and consumers alike.
The hard questions are not being posed. Who is going the pay the medical bills of the people sickened by all this pollution? How can bankers make whole the customers they cheated? When are we going to punish the politicians that steal citizens health care, good roads and lives lost in pointless wars?
Fossil fuel producers are masters of deception when it comes to hiding the real costs of burning coal, oil and nuclear fuel. They point to wind and solar as more costly while their products not so secretly sicken billions. Cigarette, alcohol and sugar producers spend billions on false research or false advertising intended to lure consumers to their deadly products. Pharmaceutical makers rattle off complex side effects too fast for consumers to understand the meanings of each. These firms sometimes paid their fines but did not change their evil ways.
In addition to fines and settlement costs, large organizations must be required to educate or rather reeducate consumers. Gambling casinos pay for gamblers anonymous programs but do the booze distillers pay for AA. Maybe but don't expect Exxon or BP to spend much promoting solar or wind. Sugary drink makers, tobacco dealers and drug makers don't subsidize health clubs. Banks don't sponsor many lessons on how to save on your new house purchase. The incentive is not there even though they might be literally killing their own consumers.
Governments and schools need to use more of the penalties paid by firms to address the root problems. It will take time to prove to consumers that Coca Cola makes them fat, coal causes cancers, and more exercise is better than more cigarettes or drink. Special interests will fight back but the truth will prevail. Once this is accomplished maybe we can educate voters about the need to support candidates that truly represent their best interests.