I recently listened to an interview with Ralph Nader. I respect his focus on customer issues and his influence in changing the way we look at corporations and their responsibility to the public. In this interview, he lets his opinions and beliefs be known.
Since the 1960s, Ralph Nader has been a leading advocate for consumer rights. Everything from seatbelts in cars to the military budget and the failure to deal with a pandemic. In 1968, Nader recruited seven volunteer law students, dubbed the Nader Raiders by the Washington press corps. The Nader Raiders helped establish many advocacy organizations, most notably Public Citizen. Nader Raiders became involved with issues, such as nuclear safety, international trade, regulation of insecticides, meat processing, pension reform, land use, the Federal Trade Commission, and banking.
Nader won victories in Washington without ever electing anybody in Congress. If truth is known, his groups were grassroots lobbyists. In the sixties and seventies, “between elections, we put great pressure on key members of Congress who had leverage with other members of Congress.” His Raiders worked with influential members in Congress to adopt their regulation bills. Their tactics assured approval both in the House and in the Senate.
Nader appears to reflect on those days with bittersweet imagery. He points out that even though his advocacy groups beat back corporate crime, fraud, abuse, and corporate control over Congress. Eventually, his star waned. He believes that they were ill-prepared for the corporate counterattack.
“After the battles were won the people went back home and the people that benefited from these health and safety regulations and some economic regulations, took too much for granted became satisfied and complacent. They didn’t do their homework on who they voted for or voted against. They didn’t strengthen the civic movements back in their own grassroots neighborhood.
At the same time, the corporations watched the process play out and learned from it. “They beefed up their lobbying in Washington and vastly increased their political action committee contributions; they fielded their own candidates; they challenged good incumbents in the primary; they developed their own mass media right out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.” He argues this is part of the system that we now live in, thanks to both political parties selling out to corporate interests.
The interviewer asked Mr. Nader to assess his 60 years of being a consumer advocate and a public intellectual. Nader started with the ruling Democratic Party. “Well, one thing I’ve learned is that the Democratic Party is on an infinite journey of cowardliness. Because now they’re getting credit for a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill, one hundred percent financed on the shoulders of our children and grandchildren, without a single effort–never mind success–to restore the gigantic Trump tax cuts.”
“The Democrats now are so weak and cowardly that they can’t even protect what’s left of Medicare … they’re too busy catering to the corporate state. They’re too busy marginalizing progressive Democrats. They’re too busy destroying any kind of alternative political electoral competition. They’re too busy to clean up campaign finance corruption, which they benefit from just like the Republicans.”
“When they gain the presidency and the Congress, they can’t seem to roll back enough of what the Republicans have done. In 2009 under Obama, they hardly rolled back anything. They expanded Bush and Cheney’s empire with more drone attacks and more lawlessness.”
Nader confirms that Washington is in a “stage that I would call a corporate state, that is exactly the definition of fascism conveyed by Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a 1938 message to the U.S. Congress. He said when private power takes over the government, that is fascism.”
He continued by noting a very “important distinction: corporate capitalism is not capitalism. Capitalism is your ma and pa store on Main Street; corporate capitalism is basic corporate socialism. Because without socialism in Washington bailing out capitalism, capitalism would have collapsed a long time ago.”
Nader points out that Washington has a history of corporate bailouts. “Every time Wall Street gets in trouble, every time the banks overreach and speculate, Washington bails them out. Every time there is a major industry deep in trouble, like the auto industry, General Motors, Washington socialism bails them out.”
“The big drug companies demand advance payment in the billions for producing drugs that make them a colossal profit with no price regulation. All over, they want bailouts everywhere, bailouts, handouts, giveaways, subsidies. It’s half of what Washington does every day, shovel out more of the money, the guarantees, the overblown contracts, to the military contractors. And it just keeps going. Boeing crashed a 737 MAX and got a huge bailout from Washington in a variety of ways.”
Nader claims this government bailout money is wasted. Pointing out that the “money is used to buy back their stock, which is the closest to burning trillions of dollars over the last ten years to increase the metrics for their executive compensation. Doesn’t create a single job or create a single business.“
Nader believes that our corporate state is growing and getting more dominant with every four years of presidential election, and every two years of Congressional election. He marvels at the arrogance that some Congressmen displayed after January 6 when elected officials referred to the Capital as their house and elevated it to the symbol of democracy. Then virtuous signaling pondered how dare these rioters to desecrate this symbol, the core of democracy.
But Nader appears to scoff at this assertion claiming that the symbol of democracy is actually “an institution run as a consummate autocracy, run by four people: the Democratic and Republican heads in the House, and the Democratic and Republican heads in the Senate.” With Nancy Pelosi as the commander in chief. “She is running a one-person rule in the House of Representatives, just the way McConnell was running a one-person rule, until he was displaced, in the Senate.”
Nader points out that the U.S. has two revenue factors. One is the cost of the public infrastructure investments, the second being the military budget. At the expense of the aging and decaying infrastructure, the U.S. empire is blowing up other countries abroad with the military budget. The congressional priority is on guns and not butter.
Nader points at a Congressional taboo on the military budget. “There was a time when people like Senator Proxmire would hold hearings on military waste, fraud, and abuse. Now the largest operating budget in the federal government is not debated and not audited.”
“The Pentagon is violating a 1992 federal statute requiring them to submit an audited budget to the General Accounting Office, or Government Accountability Office as it’s now called, of the U.S. Congress.” This unaccountability has done nothing but continued to send funds for the empire to blow up other countries and kill innocent civilians.
Ralph expressed his view of the younger generation directly. He contends that the young generation is unaware of what Washington is perpetrating. Nader states, “this young generation that calls themselves progressive and changed, or change agent, they just don’t have a clue. They don’t read. You don’t read, you don’t think. You don’t think, you don’t read. You don’t do those things, you don’t set the stage for social justice movements. We all know this, over the years.”
They have been distracted enough not to know “of the corporate supremacists controlling our political economy, strategically planning every conceivable nook and corner. They’re commercializing childhood, they’re strategically planning higher education, they’ve planned our tax system, they’re strategically planning our electoral and political system, our public budgets, our military foreign policy. They’re strategically planning the public land and its disposition daily, one-third of America.”
Giants of Tech
Nader continued with the distraction theme. “The necessities of life are not treated by Google, Facebook, and Amazon, and Microsoft and Apple. They don’t provide food. They don’t provide shelter. They don’t provide the mechanics of transportation. They don’t provide healthcare. They don’t provide children’s support services. They don’t provide for retirement income, based on productive factories that used to give pensions to their workers. What they do is control our time and shovel before us ways to shift around and search and look for information, which they make sure is never connected to power. “
“They provide the illusion. They provide a community in the internet, virtual reality, that has all kinds of corrosive dimensions to it, in terms of nastiness, slander, viciousness, intimidation. They don’t provide anything new here.”
Nader Remains Optimistic
Nader remains hopeful about a resurgence of the power that real people can generate. He believes that people still have the opportunity to harness a government gone corporate. “Here’s the rub,” explains Nader, “it has never taken more than 1% active citizens scattered throughout the country representing [or building] the majority public opinion to change Congress on any number of agendas throughout history.”
Back a few years Nader wrote an article, “Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think.” In it, he points out how little it takes to make a change. “It took about one percent, active citizens, distributed throughout the country, representing majority public opinion, or building to majority public opinion, to change Congress on any number of agendas. You name it, throughout history. Even the Civil Rights Movement never had more than two and a half million active citizens all over the country. That’s about one percent of the adults in 435 Congressional districts.”
So, he asks, “why in the world aren’t all these demonstrators and marchers focusing on 535 men and women who put their shoes on every day the way we do?” Nader continues, “it defies credulity how all this effort–marches, demonstrations, protests–the energy goes into the ether instead of latching on to a laser beam focusing right on Capitol hill. It’s Congress that should be the focus. Congress is the only Constitutional authority that can control runaway corporate power, discipline it, break it up, challenge it, displace it with cooperatives and other economic institutions, and render it subordinate to the power of sovereign human beings.”
Nader’s Displacement Plan – Avoiding Serfdom
“So you look at the future, and you see serfdom everywhere. Contract, fine-print contract serfdom, the courts being blocked by tort reform–wounded people can’t even get their day in court. And everywhere the doors are closing. So you say, OK, what door is still open?” The open door that Nader points to is Congress as one and consumerism as the second.
Nader calls for Congress to be subordinated Constitutionally to the supremacy of real people. Nader explains, “Members of Congress want to get reelected. They don’t get elected by corporations. They get funded by corporations to intimidate potential opponents. But we’ve seen that they can’t do a complete job of that. That you can pry open Congress in a whole variety of techniques and ways, from civic strategies to primary challenges, et cetera, to using the leverage of your hardcore supporters in Congress more effectively, and on and on.” Nader points to the Constitution as the only tool we have to turn this around.
Nader states, “to turn around the federal government by the smallest but most Constitutionally strongest branch of government, the U.S. Congress–a branch whose names we know, unlike the judiciary or the executive branch?”
“And unless we seize our sovereign power and then control Congress, which has a huge leverage effect on state, local, and national government, we will continue to be driven into the ground with over half the people in the country impoverished already, and with more and more corporations deciding that they are going to make money from money. Instead of investing trillions of dollars into productive enterprise and employment”
The second is consumerism. Real people choosing other economic institutions will displace the giant artificial entities. “Starting with consumers who don’t buy from Amazon, if they can avoid it. Who doesn’t buy from all these giant Walmarts and McDonald’s and so on, and start supporting local economies that are now in the tens of billions of dollars of operation? And they’re all around, and they’re much more accountable because you can highball them.”
“When you go to legitimate credit unions, you weaken Bank of America. When you improve your health with diet and exercise, you weaken the drug companies and the health so-called care companies. When you develop solar energy you weaken ExxonMobil. These are all displacements. It’s two things. Subordination under the Constitution of the artificial entities called the corporate entity, to real human beings. Corporations were originally chartered in the 1800s in Massachusetts to be our servants, not our masters; they were on a short lease they had to renew themselves. And now they’re our masters and we’re their servants.“
“We have the community back in our neighborhoods, which we can displace whatever narcissistic fulfillment comes from desperate people who use Facebook to connect with other human beings in an ethereal manner. So what I’m trying to show the utter trivial but disastrous distraction and control of people’s time and minds by these Silicon Valley companies, whose basic research was almost entirely funded by the U.S. government.”
“There are certain clinics in this country that are working very effectively on prevention, smoking cessation, obesity reduction, diet improvement. So we ought to work on those kinds of things that don’t need Congressional power. They need neighborhood organization, the rebuilding of community in ways that are favorable to the survival and prosperity of human beings, regardless of the labels they give themselves politically.”
“Expansion of local economies, which I describe as displacement of giant corporations. And the spread of food coops–that’s hardly a news item. Food coops are spreading around the country, where the consumers decide what they want to sell themselves. You know, and therefore they’re going to have a higher emphasis on nutrition. They’re not going to be so seduced by exciting packaging and special sales in these giant food supermarkets.”
“What I’m saying is, we need to divide this economy into two parts: the internet virtual reality, and the necessity economy. We’ve been distracted by these illusionists. These corporations are illusionists. What is Facebook, in terms of economic history? What does Facebook do, in terms of any of the necessities of life? Nothing.”
“And these corporations, as we all know, are artificial entities; they have no sovereignty under the Constitution; they’re not even mentioned in the Constitution, the word company or corporation. The Preamble starts with, “We the people,” not “We the Congress” or “We the corporations.”
Ralph Nader is an 87-year-old with a lot to say. His voice may have faded over the years his message remains clear. I am not a big fan of regulatory legislation. I support grassroots community-based actions. Ralph asks for the people to explore empowerment. Will we listen? Will we respond? Serfdom is at stake!