Independent candidate Ralph Nader first came to national attention more than 40 years ago as a young lawyer taking on the U.S. automotive industry over safety. Now in his third run for the presidency, Nader offers his explanation — and solution — for the economic crisis.
"This was an entirely preventable economic calamity," he says. "It was produced by extraordinary risk-taking and the development of very abstract financial instruments that bet on a bet on a bet on a bet." Nader says the government should take action to re-regulate, giving more power to shareholders. He also recommends criminal prosecution in addition to making speculators pay for their own bailout through a special stock tax.
Nader favors a major public works program to retard the recession and unemployment. Rather than discourage investors, more regulation would encourage good enterprise investment instead of "speculative, risky paper investments," he says.
Instead of a military presence in Afghanistan, Nader prefers a major economic development plan with public works programs that give tribal chiefs a stake in improving their communities.
Domestically, Nader says it actually would be more efficient for the government to provide citizens with health care. He notes the high cost of the current private insurance system that still leaves thousands without proper care. His single-payer government health insurance proposal, he says, "eliminates hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate, administrative and bureaucratic expenses." It also eliminates the expenses caused by billing fraud and abuse, he adds.
Nader insists that his proposals are backed by Americans even though they are opposed or ignored by rivals Barack Obama and John McCain. "This is a rather strange role for someone running the third most prominent presidential race," he says. "Usually you represent dissenting, minority party opinions, but the situation has been so gridlocked for many years ... that we now represent majority opinion."
Below is a transcript of the interview.
SCOTT SIMON: Ralph Nader joins us now from the studios of member station WOI in Ames, Iowa. Mr. Nader, thanks so much for being with us.
RALPH NADER: You're quite welcome, Scott Simon.
Let's begin with the dominant news of the week and probably beyond that. You've been opposed to the financial rescue package passed by Congress. What would you do?
Well, this is an entirely preventable economic calamity. It was produced by extraordinary risk taking and the development of very abstract financial instruments that bet on a bet, on a bet, on a bet. So first, what we should do and should have done in this package was to have re-regulation to give power to shareholders to control their company and their bosses, to criminally prosecute the culprits and to make the speculators pay for their own bailout by a one-tenth of 1 percent tax on $500 trillion of security derivative transactions this year.
There was a stock tax to help pay for the Civil War, Spanish-American War. FDR had one. We haven't had one since, and I think Congress completely abandoned its trusteeship with the American people by not insisting, at a time when they had great bargaining power with the Wall Street lobbyists, on those safeguards.
What do we do now? I think, one, we have a major public works program to retard the recession and unemployment. There is $1.7 trillion of deferred maintenance in schools and clinics and drinking water systems, bridges and public transit all over the country. That produces good-paying jobs that can't be exported. If we're going to have a bailout, we should let these speculators take their own medicine, but provide a steel law to protect the prudent institutions and the prudent savers from the fallout of the Wall Street collapse.
Would something like a stock tax, or for that matter, more regulation, discourage investment and entrepreneurship that could create jobs?
It would encourage enterprise investment — not speculative, risky paper investment.
I'm not going to ask about Iraq because I think a lot of people are familiar with your position there, but what would you do with all the U.S. troops in Afghanistan?
Well, I would not have soldiers in Afghanistan. I would have a major economic development plan with public works and working with the tribal chieftains to give them a stake in improving the lot of their people. And then they would provide the police law and order against any insurgents. That's the way you do it. If you pour more soldiers and more modern armaments, they're going to be killing a lot of civilians, and that's just going to increase the resistance.
In these days of such expensive medical technology, can the U.S. government afford to guarantee every citizen the same level of health care, any more than it can afford to guarantee that all Americans can eat steak and not just hamburger?
It would be more efficient because right now we're spending, in this private insurance system, $7,600 per capita, and we don't cover 50 million people, and a lot of millions of people are under-covered. Single-payer government health insurance with private delivery, as we're proposing, and free choice of doctor and hospital, eliminates hundreds of billions of dollars of corporate, administrative and bureaucratic expenses such as with big HMOs, who spend about 30 cents on the dollar on administrative expenses — denying claims and exclusions, deductions and tiers of corporate bureaucracy and heavy compensations at the top. So it's actually more efficient.
Also, we'll eliminate something the press should pay more attention to: over $200 billion of computerized billing fraud and abuse. So you're talking over half a trillion dollars that doesn't deliver any health care and cheats people and wastes money, which can be directed to covering those that are now not covered.
Mr. Nader, you practically invented what we call consumerism today. And I wonder if running for president in 2000 and 2004, if you think that may have diminished the attention and respect that you'd like some of your ideas to receive?
Well, there is no alternative, Scott. Washington shut down on us and a lot of other consumer, environmental and labor groups when corporations attained such power under both parties in the White House and Congress. I would continue to be doing what I did in the past: environment, consumer protection, motor vehicle safety. That's why we're proposing on our Web site, votenader.org, proposals that are supported and long overdue by the American people, which are ignored or opposed by Obama and McCain.
This is a rather strange role for someone running the third most prominent race. Usually you represent dissenting minority opinions, but the situation has been so gridlocked for so many years, like on health insurance and living wage and a law enforcement program against corporate crime, that we now represent majority opinion.
But it has to be asked. Why don't you get more than a few percentage points of the vote?
Well, we're excluded from the presidential debates, which, as you know, is a commission controlled by the two parties, and they don't want anyone on the stage. Therefore, if you're not a multibillionaire, you can't reach tens of millions of people.
Ralph Nader, independent party candidate for president. Thank you so much.
Thank you very much, Mr. Simon.