Tuesday, February 23, 2010

The Buyer-Beware Society

"All Toyota vehicles bear my name," the president and grandson of the founder writes today. "When cars are damaged, it is as though I am as well...I, more than anyone, want Toyota's cars to be safe."

A heartfelt OpEd, written by the best hired gun money can buy, and in tomorrow's testimony before Congress, Akio Toyoda will no doubt amplify that regret and sincerity.

Yet a criminal investigation of the car maker's problems is showing "too cozy a relationship" between the company and government regulators, with Toyota negotiating down the scope of safety recalls over the years.

On his second day in the job last July, Mr. Toyoda was given a presentation by his Washington lobbyists, bragging about "a series of examples where the government didn't force the company to do as much as some would have liked, specifically on sudden-acceleration complaints, where they only recalled about 55,000 floor mats, rather than a more comprehensive mechanical fix."

So much for family pride, but Toyota hypocrisy is not unusual in a society where trust has eroded everywhere in relations between individuals and the corporate and government institutions that control their lives.

In every transaction now, the rule is read the fine print or take the consequences. "Let the buyer beware" has expanded from good advice to an imperative.

Yesterday the President did some bragging of his own, about new credit rules that went into effect to limit "deceptive, unfair tactics that hit responsible consumers with unreasonable costs. But today, we are shifting the balance of power back to the consumer and we are holding the credit card companies accountable."

Such hyperbole is not surprising, but consumer advocates point out that card issuers can still impose annual fees, inactivity fees and other kinds of obscure charges, as well as "new fees we've never even heard of yet." The double-digit milking of card holders will certainly go on unabated.

The sad truth is that we live in a fine-print society, and there is no reason to believe that trust will be making a comeback any time soon.

1 comment:

invisible said...

Whatever happened to Seppuku, I wonder.