BOOK REVIEW:

The "Fight" of Nader's Life

by Brad Johnson


The Good Fight: Declare Your Independence and Close the Democracy Gap

by Ralph Nader
(Regan Books 2004, 304 pages)

Nader cites the "Wal-Mart" factor, which caused Safeway to reduce benefits at its California supermarkets in order to compete with lower prices at Wal-Mart.
A lot of people have made fun of Ralph Nader during the campaign season for his decision to run for President as an independent candidate in 2004. But Nader says he's not the only person being laughed at. On the stump and his new book The Good Fight, Nader argues that powerful corporations are laughing at all of us as they increase their influence over our lives.

The Good Fight is in many ways a rebuttal to critics of Nader's decision to run for President in 2004. As he has done in the past, Nader paints the issue as a struggle between civic values and corporate values. As he sees it, citizens today are more powerless than ever, and the two major parties are failing to address the issue of unrestrained corporate power.

In the book's opening chapter Nader talks about the historic role third parties have played in American politics by their advancement of overlooked issues such as abolition, women's rights, and farm and labor causes. But he argues that we now have a "political monoculture" where the difference between the two major parties is like "Coke and Pepsi." In such a political landscape, most candidates run in "safe districts" where they face no serious competition, while the Presidential election is populated by "safe states" that are not contested.

In the remainder of the book, Nader discusses a series of issues which he feels are being neglected in the current political debate. Some of this material may be familiar to people who have heard Nader speak in the past. Topics include the commercialization of children through television, marketing, and pharmaceutical drugs for "personality problems"; corporate tax loopholes which allow businesses to avoid paying their fair share; and a rollback of the environmental victories of the 60's and 70's.

Nader makes a strong denunciation of the abuse of corporate power in his section on consumers. He says, "We consumers are amateurs increasingly controlled by large vendors. They are remorseless and organized, consumers are voiceless and isolated".

This power imbalance reveals itself when we have to deal with HMO's, predatory lenders, or pay day loans. But Nader argues that "the worst penalties consumers pay are death, injury and sickness, due to marketplace failures." These "failures" may take the form of air pollution, medical malpractice, workplace injuries, and auto accidents, many of which are preventable, according to Nader.

In a section on workers, Nader say they are earning less while corporate profits rise. He believes this trend is directly related to corporate globalization, which encourages corporations to move their American factories to China or Mexico where wages are lower. American workers are then forced to take jobs with lower pay and less benefits. Nader argues that globalization and union-busting actually reinforce each other because corporations can always threaten to leave the country when faced with unionization. He also cites the "Wal-Mart" factor, which caused Safeway to reduce benefits at its California supermarkets in order to compete with lower prices at Wal-Mart.

In the health care section Nader laments the fact that one-third of all Americans are uninsured or underinsured and that 18,000 people die each year due to lack of coverage.

He is also concerned about the "corporatizing" of health care. A good example is the way HMO's deny treatment to patients and take away doctors' independence, all in a quest for short term profits. So why doesn't the United States have a single-payer system like so many other countries? Nader says "The concentration of greed and power breeds institutional insanity. It is driving America backward into the future."

A lot has changed since 2000 when Nader received widespread support from progressives. But regardless of what you think of his political strategy, Nader's critique of corporate power remains relevant. Even though The Good Fight doesn't break a lot of new ground, it does contain a well-written summary of the important ideas that Nader has been talking about throughout his career.


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This story was published on August 26, 2004.