Nader’s Pitch for a Left-Right Convergence
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Ralph Nader’s new book shows his zeal for finding and promoting left-right solutions.
Ralph Nader turned 80 in February and just last month came out with his twelfth book. It’s titled Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State. The book, as he writes, explores “the topic of convergence, which I take to be voluntary alliance for the common good by positive-spirited persons of the Right and the Left.”
The very premise is exhilarating. I have recently come to agree with the psychologist Jonathan Haidt that, in politics, we play on teams, and the players on one team generally detest the other team to such a degree that they pay no attention to what the other team’s players have to say. As Haidt puts it:
Morality binds and blinds. It binds us into ideological teams that fight each other as though the fate of the world depended on our side winning each battle. It blinds us to the fact that each team is composed of good people who have something important to say.
The notion that people on the Left think that people on the Right are in any way “positive-spirited” (and vice versa) sounds almost antique. Yet here is Ralph Nader saying it and believing it.
During a debate with Ronald Reagan in 1977, sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute, I elicited from him a clear distaste for government propping up business. He noted that he kept telling his corporate friends not to have their hands in Washington’s trough. He cited as an example of unwanted corporate giveaway the Jones Act, which restricted US port-to-port shipping to US-flag ships, thereby keeping shipping rates high.
The Jones Act is still with us, an artifact — today, anyway — more of union than of corporate power, but you get the point. “Corporate friends” can’t resist putting “their hands in Washington’s trough” — even though, in the end (to continue the metaphor), some crocodile jumps out of the trough to bite them on the snout. This is a good warning, for example, to the technology companies that are currently begging the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet as a public utility.
It’s safe to say that Left and Right start with the notion that Americans should make enough to live decently.
But Hightower and Unz would have none of it. Their contention was that businesses are rolling in dough, their CEOs are making a mint, and they have plenty to give to the folks making $7.25. They want to see social justice, yes, but they want the bosses to pay for it. And President Obama wants both a 39 percent minimum wage increase and a wide expansion of the EITC and the Child Care Credit. (The president wants the EITC to be apply to childless adults — a position also supported by Aparna Mathur and Abby McCloskey in a recent AEI paper.)
If we want to find the common ground that Nader so earnestly desires, we have to shed some of our ancient baggage and reach an obvious conclusion: in order to top up wages, the best method is through the tax code, not through compelling businesses to hire people at government-mandated prices.
This argument, unfortunately, made little impression on the audience that Ralph had gathered, but the cause itself — convergence — is admirable as hell, and I salute Nader both for his book and for his zeal in finding and promoting left-right solutions. His first book, Unsafe at Any Speed, a bombshell published 49 years ago, exposed the scandal of the unsafe Corvair and, more important, launched the consumer movement. He’s onto another good thing with his latest.
James K. Glassman is a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and is the founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute.
FURTHER READING: James K. Glassman also writes "U.S. Leadership Rating Rises. Huh?" and "The Obamacare of Real Estate." Andrew Biggs and Mark J. Perry contribute "A National Minimum Wage Is a Bad Fit for Low-Cost Communities." Arnold Kling explores "The Reality of the ‘Real Wage.’"
Image by Dianna Ingram / Bergman Group