Remember the Ford Pinto?
If you’re wondering why I’m talking about the Ford Pinto, it’s because we’re seeing that same behavior in today’s Republican Party. It’s all about costs and benefits.
Ford discovered a potential problem with the gas tank of the Pinto in 1968, two years before the Pinto was put on the market. The problem was that the gas tank exploded when the car was hit from the rear. Ford conducted its own cost-benefit analysis and found it would cost $11 per car to make their cars less likely to explode in a fireball. It was only $11 per car; $121 million to fix the entire fleet before it went to the car dealerships.
Ford also looked at their potential liability from the faulty gas tanks. Based on car crash data and other factors, Ford engineers and accountants estimated that 2100 Pintos would burn up when the gas tank exploded on impact, causing 180 burn deaths and about the same number of burn injuries. Ford analysts assumed they would face out-of-court settlements of about $200,000 per burn death; $67,000 for each severe burn injury; and about $700 for each vehicle that burned up, for a total of $49.5 million in likely liabilities.
In the end, it was a purely business decision. Fixing the Pinto would have cost $121 million. Large court settlements against corporations were unheard of in the late 1960s. Paying off burn victims and grieving survivors whose loved ones had been incinerated would only cost an estimated $50 million.
It was cheaper to let people burn.
Had Ford known that a jury was going to award $125 million in punitive damages in a single case, they probably would have chosen to spend the $11. The judge eventually reduced the punitive damages to $3.5 million, but Ford’s total cost for this single landmark settlement was $6.5 million, much more than their $200,000 per case estimate. There were so many out-of-court settlements that it is impossible to know exactly how much Ford paid in all.
Republican politicians seem to have done a similar analysis of COVID. They know that rejecting mask mandates and telling people not to be vaccinated will cost lives, but it may have a huge political payoff in the future. Politicians like Governor Ron DeSantis of Florida and Greg Abbot of Texas have done the math and concluded that they will get more votes by defying science than by saving lives. Lauren Boebert must have counted on her fingers, asked someone what the answer was, and reached that same conclusion. Boebert has already used her anti-health message to raise donations for her reelection campaign.
Some people will die, including school children, but the anti-government, anti-science Republican base will be even more motivated to vote for Republican candidates. For them, the deaths of several thousand men, women, and children is worth it if it means they get to “own the libs.” And just in case it doesn’t, anti-democracy Republican legislatures are busy codifying voter suppression into law.
Republican leaders decided power was more important than people when they turned masks into a political symbol. The reiterated their belief that votes were more important than children when they refused to allow local school boards to decide what was best for their students and have mask mandates. The pro-business Republican Party concluded that they could gain more from letting businesses die than they could by allowing businesses to decide whether to require masks. Republicans leaders continue to get in the way of keeping Americans out of hospitals and morgues.
We could have been through with this by now. The reason we cannot return to normal is that not enough people have been vaccinated and not enough people are wearing masks, not because of medical reasons, but by choice. In a very real sense, this is the hill they have chosen to die on.
You can thank Republican leadership for that.