Lunch and Lecture with Ralph Nader
[8 March, 2000]
Green presidential candidate Ralph Nader was in Philadelphia on
Wednesday, March 8th, 2000, for lunch with a number of land value
taxation advocates at the famous White Dog Cafe on Sansom Street near
the University of Pennsylvania. Attending the luncheon gathering,
which raised $1000 for Nader¹s presidential campaign chest, were
Melanie Douty, Richard Biddle, Joan Sage, Bradley Keach and Herb
Lubowitz, all members of the Philadelphia based Henry George School of
Social Science, Jake Himmelstein, Treasurer of the Council of Georgist
Organizations, Paul Johnson, former Board President of the Henry
George School of Northern California, Rebecca Hicks, editor of Green
Revolution, a publication of the School of Living, Anne Goeke, Green
Party leader and activist from Lancaster, Ted Gwartney, Director of
the New York City based Robert Schalkenbach Foundation, and Alanna
Hartzok, United Nations NGO Representative, International Union for
Land Value Taxation, who had worked with Green Party organizer Dan
Kinney to make arrangements for the gathering.
Nader, already familiar with basic ideas of Henry George, requested
and was given a brief update on the movement for land value taxation.
He gratefully received an information packet containing Alan Durning¹s
book Tax Shift and other relevant material. When shown *The New
Economics of Sustainable Development*, James Robertson¹s latest
book (just published by the European Commission) which makes the case
for eco-tax reform, land value taxation and citizen dividends, he
requested and received this as well.
Stating that there is a huge problem with media access for third
party candidates, Nader realizes that a major obstacle to getting his
campaign issues out to the broad public is that not enough time is
given for depth consideration of issues. He was looking to us for
sound bites to get our message across and was given several
suggestions such as *tax waste, not work* and *tax bads, not goods.*
The Nader campaign will be approaching a dozen major civic groups to
invite them to co-host a debate which the media would want to cover.
Very articulate about the problem of wealth maldistribution and how
our democracy has been compromised and undermined by the concentration
of economic power, Nader is clearly looking for powerful solutions to
add to his arsenal of proposals for change. He very much likes the
Tobin Tax, a proposed tax on global financial exchanges of 1% or less
which would raise billions of dollars from currency exchange and
speculation. The impact that our discussion made on him was
immediately apparent, as he proposed that there be public debates
about the merits of land value taxation and the economics of Henry
George in his talk to several hundred students and Green Party members
in the Steinberg-Dietrich Hall at the Wharton School immediately
following our lunch with him.
Nader is running a serious campaign for President under the Green
Party ticket, intent on winning 5% of the vote which would give
several millions of dollars of funding for Green Party efforts. He is
running to "escalate peoples expectations of what is possible,"
stating that there are "huge capabilities being obstructed by
the concentration of power."
When asked about taking votes away from Democrats, Nader responds
with a question, "Are you satisifed with the Democrats?"
He reports getting four Republican votes for every six Democratic
votes in California for his previous run for President to show that
there is definitely room for a third party force that can cross both
major party lines of the "duopoly." He says that "they
have you hostage if you do not particularly like the Democrats but
accept them as the least bad choice. Most of you are taxpayers,
consumers, workers and voters. Do you want more power for all those
Nader views our government as rule by the few, with the entrenchment
of power and wealth defeating the advance of democracy. He states that
Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt all warned of
the excesses of monied interests.
"These are booming times according to GDP and executive
stock, and news reports that things could not be better, but there is
a huge disconnect between this and the majority of people,"
says Nader. "Anyone who controls the yardstick controls the
He points out that with the nine trillion dollar plus GDP there is
massive consumer debt and the US has 20 percent child poverty, the
highest of any Western nation. The majority of workers are making less
today when adjusted for inflation then in 1979. More and more family
members are trying to eek out a middle class living, spending 163
hours more a year working for less than 20 years ago. Fifty million
Americans try to make ends meet on less than $10 an hour. Bill Gates
wealth equals that of 120 million Americans, while vast numbers of
Americans are broke with no net wealth at all or deeply in debt.
Public works, transportation, schools, drinking water quality and
other infrastructure is crumbling while stadiums and arenas are being
built for the enrichment of a few, like the Roman stadiums of past
Here are other themes that Nader touched on:
- We now have a plutocracy - rule by the rich and powerful, where
decisions are made by the few not the many.
- Industries use government funds - corporate socialism produces
a corporate state.
- Government policy entrenches fossil fuel and nuclear, not clean
- Corporations need to internalize their costs instead of turning
our air and water into sewers.
- The military budget is twisted into a grotesque excess. The
National Security state vendors take $80 billion to defend
prosperous countries. Funds for F20 fighters and B2 bombers are
more than combined federal budgets allocated for social needs.
Nader asks of the American people, "do you really want this?"
He told the story of Granny D, an 85 year old from New Hampshire who
walked 3100 miles across the country and asked at her news media
gathering at the Arlington National Cemetery, "Did those
brave men give up their lives for this?" referring to the
sorry state of democracy in America.
"American people have lost their taste for self government,"
says Nader. He says we have been living in a state of increasing
demoralization and that it is time for another populist progressive
movement. We have to move beyond even participatory democracy to
*initiatory democracy* where people are not simply following a
movement, but they themselves become leaders who are putting forth and
implementing ideas to create a better political and economic system.
Quoting the Roman statesman and philosopher Cicero who said that "Freedom
is participation in power," Nader is calling for
strengthening the roots of a democratic society.
"We can have democracy or concentration of wealth in the
hands of the few - not both," he says. "The two
major parties are like fossils, they have no grassroots. They raise
huge amounts of money for electronic combat and no longer have
storefronts or any real loyal supporters. It is one corporate party
with two heads wearing different makeup."
Speaking to concerns of the students against sweatshops movement who
helped organize his talk at the Wharton School, Nader spoke about the
*corporatization of universities* He suggests that the University of
Pennsylvania website list all corporate contributions so that graduate
students working on projects will know if their professor is a
Nader further urged that research universities should have annual
meetings with their Boards of Trustees - a "meet your rulers
day" with all the corporate sponsors and trustees on an
auditorium stage to answer questions from students for at least three
hours every year.
He urged students to become part of statewide PIRGs, (Public Interest
Research Groups) noting that New York State has 100 staff and 14
offices. He told us that in 1976 when 26,000 Penn State students
signed a petition for PIRG funding, the students lost two to one on
the panel which was 2/3 industrial and agribusiness representatives. "They
knew that if they allowed PIRG the students would go after those
companies," he said.
Nader is optimistic about the ripple affect of the student
anti-sweatshop movement. "They have learned more about
corporate abuse than they ever would in the classroom and realized
their power as students to join together and use the libraries,
newspapers, and campus media, all to create a movement without having
to go begging a TV station for 30 seconds in the evening news."
Nader says that the big injustices in the world are not being dealt
with in the college curricula or in the media, which is 90%
entertainment and ads. "We are losing control of our children
to hucksters and videos." He would like to see an end to the
trivialization of the media and urges citizens to *take control of
what we own as a people* meaning the air waves and broadcast bands.
He called taxation a "nightmare of inequity and inefficiency"
stating that "we need a big debate on different kinds of
taxation, to talk about how corporations are freeloading on public
services and getting tax breaks while taxes are falling on workers and
smaller businesses. We need to open a debate about land taxation and
Henry George, to tax bad things not good things, and not tax people to
go to work everyday."
Addressing growing concerns about the World Trade Organization (WTO)
and IMF and World Bank policies, he advocates trade agreements which
do not impinge on consumer, labor and environmental issues or make
them vulnerable to trade restrictions, stating that we need to pull up
not pull down standards for trade agreements. He explains the problem
with the WTO by bringing the issues close to home, asking "What
if the state of Georgia had no minimum wage, no environmental or
workers safety laws, and so could produce cheaper goods and thus
control the market, that is what the WTO wants worldwide. Global
markets without global democracy is a big problem."
Ralph Nader intends to ignite a small progressive movement and turn
it into a major political force. He is drawing the line in the sand
for us. Dare we step across?