When I wrote this ...
Just so that VW could lie to the public
... on the wall sticker in the Gedenk und Bildungsstätte Centre in Erfurt, my wife said "That makes you sound like a communist". Maybe so, but I have been outraged by what VW did in cheating both the EU's emissions tests, and the public. Outraged, but not surprised, as Adam Smith noted in The Wealth of Nations:
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”
And what became of VW's shame and guilt? Not very much it seems. The Americans, who discovered the problem, did at least wallop them round the shareholder wallet, but the British, Germans and EU seem to worry about damaging the economy if too much punishment is dolled out. And VW are not alone, the EU recently fined German and other European companies — responsible for making for 90% of all trucks across on the continent — €3 billion for price collusion and other misdemeanours over a 14-year period. And now we know that EU competition authorities are investigating VW, BMW and Daimler over collusion by secret technology working groups dating from the 1990s. Der Speigel alleges that the three groups colluded over the use of insufficient amounts of an additive that neutralises diesel emissions. All this begins to look like a shared institutional willingness to cheat in their (and the German) interest. The sector accounts for 20% of German industrial income, employs 800,000 people and is a visible German presence on most foreign streets.
It is a short step from saying: German car-makers cheat, to saying German business cheats, and then that Germany cheats, and I know there is considerable concern in Germany about this possibility. It's something I'll return to. Tomorrow, however, it's time for a curious story of Swedish cultural excess in Erfurt.