Ralph Nader’s Worldview

From an interview with Tyler Cowen.

If you look at the history of nations, major redirections for justice were brought about by never more than 1 percent of the active citizenry. Whether it was civil rights, the environment, or consumer protection, they had one asset: They represented what Abraham Lincoln called the “public sentiment.” Nowadays people give up on themselves and rationalize their own powerlessness, but it takes very few people in congressional districts and around the country to make major, long-overdue changes in American society that are supported by large numbers of people.

In other words, the Ralph Naders of the world are the heroes. People with great moral vision who use the forces of activism and government to overcome the evils of the private sector.

Unfortunately, what is required to become a Ralph Nader is an unshakable belief in your own righteousness and in the wrongheadedness of those with whom you disagree. Tyler tries to get Nader to admit that he has gotten something wrong, and all Nader can come with is

I underestimated the power of corporations to crumble the countervailing force we call government.

To me, Nader’s absolute certainty about his own righteousness makes the whole idea of an alliance involving him untenable. If you are that certain of yourself, then you cannot accept other people on equal terms. Working with him cannot involve give-and-take. It has to be obedience.

11 thoughts on “Ralph Nader’s Worldview

  1. The substance of that last quote is hilarious. It essentially reads “this animal is very dangerous; when attacked, it defends itself.” It might be fifty years too late for that insight to do much good, but better late than never, I suppose.

  2. I am slowly working my way through Jonathan Rauch’s “Kindly Inquisitors,” wherein he contrasts “liberal science,” which progresses toward knowledge via constant challenge to present understanding, with “fundamentalism,” which is not limited to the religious understanding of the term, and which is belief that will not tolerate any criticism or challenge.

    Nader is a prime example of the latter.

  3. “To me, Nader’s absolute certainty about his own righteousness makes the whole idea of an alliance involving him untenable. If you are that certain of yourself, then you cannot accept other people on equal terms. Working with him cannot involve give-and-take. It has to be obedience.”

    This description of Nader reminds me of certain libertarians and free-marketeers.

    • While some libertarians have particular mindsets which are unaccepting of alternative viewpoints (anarchist vs. minarchist, etc.), the whole point of libertarianism and free markets is to let people do as they want.
      If you want to be part of a commune, we don’t oppose this – just don’t force us to take part.

      So I’m confused about what it is regarding libertarians in which you find ‘obedience’ as part of the equation?
      Yes, we believe free markets and individualism provide the greatest benefit to all. Yes, we would like to see these things rooted in our nation’s everyday policies. But these things are not LIMITING. The are delimiting. In other words, if I were to profess myself a communist, socialist or mixed-economy believer, I’m essentially saying there are aspects of my belief system I’m willing to force on you.

      What is it about libertarian thought which requires force, when in fact it’s about letting you make the choice of who you seek to align yourself with?

    • To clarify, I don’t see Libertarians engaging in self-righteous thought about their position. I see them saying whatever position YOU believe is right for you is the correct one, we just want to make the system better so you can make that decision for yourself.

  4. I actually met Ralph Nader backstage after a rally he gave in Portland, Oregon about 15 years ago (long story) at the Moda Center (I think it was called the Rose Garden at the time).

    Anyway, he mentioned the old US stock transfer tax – which ended in the 60’s and of which he was advocating the revival – has been, “… two percent, so a good chunk of the rate of interest, a four percent under FDR, so quick turnaround sellers couldn’t make much.” By coincidence, I had just recently read about that tax and said, “It was point two percent. Zero point two, so that’s not all that much.”

    I could not convince him that was true. He was adamant about it being two percent.

    • That’s the way the Leftists argue. Any fact inconvenient to their narrative becomes a nonfact. Criticize Obamacare in a conversation with a leftwing friend and see how that person responds when you identify the ways the program is hurting middle class, previously insured people.

  5. That seems shortsighted. Is there nothing in common, no area open to agreement even if other areas are only agree to disagree? Need it be give and take rather than cooperate and compete? How Naderesk.

  6. some great stuff here. That final quote by Nader could come straight out of Jefferson or Madison talking about the “aristocrats” whose hold on government (even in the eras of Washington and Adams) drove them completely crazy. If they had been US Presidents instead of General Secretaries of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, their writings on concentrated wealth and corporate power–in an era when corporations had nowhere near the power they do today–might be relevant or illuminating.

    and the first quote–yep, letting some 1% of the population get their way in this country would be abhorrent.