Ralph Nader on Welfare & Poverty

2008 Independent for for President; 2004 Reform nominee; 2000 Green nominee


Visit poor cities to put faces on poverty statistics

On the Camden waterfront [across the Delaware River from the Philadelphia venue of the Republican National Convention], then-N.J.-governor Christine Todd Whitman readily approved expensive window dressing for four miles of dilapidated buildings so that Republican dignitaries would not be offended by scenes that are all too prevalent in many other less visible parts of Camden. “The first impression is important,” said this latter-day Marie Antoinette. In the meantime, this city is not even eating cake.

It is an economic and living disaster. Indicative of the devastation in Camden is the absence of a single supermarket, motel, or movie theater within the city limits.

Campaigning in Camden, political consultants say, is a waste of time. For me it put human faces behind the government’s statistics; it made clear the difference between charity and justice. There are many Camdens in America. People left behind in the millions with only the urban renewal of gentrification available to push them out.

Source: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader, Chapter One , Oct 9, 2002

Predatory lending is rich scamming the poor

Payday loans, rolled over to payday after payday, can reach annual percentage rates of 400%. Rent-to-own rackets proliferate. Predatory lending is a booming business from high-cost automobile financing to home equity and refinancing scams.

Behind this shady world of exorbitant interest rates are some well-known Wall Street investment and commercial banks that provide the capital to fuel these operations. In the 1970s, the financial lobby secured the repeal in most states of the usury laws, so the sky's the limit as far as interest rates are concerned.

There are solutions. Community development credit unions are a fair source of credit, including home mortgages. Credit unions are cooperatives, owned by their member depositors. Together with community development financial institutions, thousands more of these credit unions would do much to drive the sleazy credit predators and their Wall Street backers out of inner-city neighborhoods.

Source: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader, p. 88 , Jan 17, 2002

Tale of Two Cities: lovely suburbs and poor inner cities

[I grew up near Hartford], but this did not mean that I was familiar with THEIR Hartford--now one of the poorest inner cities in the US, suffering violent, drug-ridden, devastated schools, crumbling houses and tenements, high infant mortality, and a stunning asthma rate among black and Hispanic children reaching 40%. But as I stood by the church, one sight, one glimpse, caught the tale of two cities that is Connecticut's capital. There over the horizon rose the gleaming office buildings and hotels of the insurance companies, with their tens of billions of dollars in assets and their well-compensated executives, who at the end of the day leave for West Hartford, Simsbury, and other lovely suburbs west of the city. There also were the banks that for years found reasons to abandon low-income areas, redlining them into sure decay.

Inside the church, the pastors knew about the two Hartfords.

Source: Crashing the Party, by Ralph Nader, p.117-118 , Jan 17, 2002

Charity work is good; but politics addresses root causes

Nader speaks to college students about the great paradox of Generation X, the non-voting, self-absorbed, bottom-line crowd - which just happens to do more community service than any in the history of the country. They may be apolitical, but they are not apathetic. They go, almost automatically, to hospitals and soup kitchens, to ghetto classrooms, to the lonely and afraid in old people’s homes. Nader tells them, after praising their phenomenal good deeds: “You burn yourselves out doing charitable work. But if you get into politics and go to the cause of these problems, you will have a just society where you don’t need so much charitable work.“

Nader says they are right to rail against global sweatshops and rain forest abuse - two topics never raised by the big guys. Nader says Bush & Gore both avoid college campuses. ”They like elementary and high schools better - good photo ops and less danger of blind-siding questions and pickets.“

Source: Mary McGrory editorial, Boston Globe, p. A15 , Oct 14, 2000

Attack corporate welfare kings, not poor welfare queens

While President Clinton and the Congress have gutted the welfare system for poor people, no such top-down agenda has emerged for corporate welfare recipients. The savage demagoguery directed against imaginary “welfare queens” has never been matched with parallel denunciations of gluttonous corporate welfare kings.

While the minimal government benefits still afforded the poor are provided only to the most impoverished, no such “means testing” is applied to corporate welfare beneficiaries. By and large the bigger the company, the more it extracts in government supports.

The new welfare law sets strict time limits for how long poor people can receive government supports, but no such time limitations attach to government handouts to big business.

The welfare law denies benefits even to legal immigrants; corporate welfare, by contrast, is far more non-discriminating-Uncle Sam subsidizes foreign corporations as well as domestic businesses., including millions to Canadian mining companies.

Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p. 23-25 , Oct 9, 2000

Limit executive compensation to 30-to-1 over lowest pay

Limits on Executive Compensation in Government-Supported Corporations: Where the government is conferring substantial, voluntarily received benefits on corporations, it could reasonably limit the scope of beneficiaries to those who do not engage in particular sorts of socially undesirable behavior. One such behavior is excessive executive compensation, which heightens income and wealth inequalities, and tears at the nation’s social fabric. Government subsidies, including tax expenditures, could be denied to corporations whose executives receive more than a predetermined level of compensation, say those whose ratio of executive-to-lowest-paid-employee compensation is more than a certain amount, perhaps 30-to-1.
Source: Cutting Corporate Welfare, p.120 , Oct 9, 2000

Domestic Marshall Plan to abolish poverty

He calls for a domestic “Marshall Plan to abolish poverty and the class/race system”; a public works project to rebuild America’s cities; a big affordable housing program, and an effort to expand mass transit. He would end the so-called war on drugs and instead focus on treatment and rehabilitation.
Source: Scot Lehigh, Boston Globe on 2000 race, page D1 , Oct 8, 2000

Democracy can’t co-exist with gross income inequality

In 1941, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis made a prescient observation when he wrote: “We can have a democratic society or we can have the concentration of great wealth in the hands of the few. We cannot have both.” Today, that concentration of wealth and its political power has reached stunning intensities. In large companies, people who work in the same enterprise are now earning $1 for every $416 that the CEO takes away. In 1940, it was $1 for every $12. Today the financial wealth of the top 1% of households exceeds the combined wealth of the bottom 95% of American households. Earlier this year Bill Gates’ wealth was equal to the combined wealth of the poorest 120 million Americans. Whatever this enormous imbalance says about the Great software imitator from Redmond, Washington, it means that about tens of millions of Americans, who work year after year, decade after decade, are nearly broke. What democracy worth its salt would have led to this profound inequity?
Source: Nomination Acceptance Speech , Jun 25, 2000

Retail malls siphon off business from central cities

On New Haven’s proposed $500 million Long Wharf mall: “This is welfare for the rich on the backs of the poor and middle class. The attention of the mayor should be how to create a more cohesive, self-sustaining, prosperous central city. You don’t do that by siphoning off retail dollars to a nearby massive mall. Big businesses are on a collision course with American democracy, and the American democracy is losing.”
Source: New Haven Register, page a3,a6 , May 18, 2000

Homelessness is peaking despite good economy

[Instead of economic statistics, ] let’s look at the people indicators. We have homelessness. Affordable housing levels are at a peak in terms of not being met even though Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are reporting record profits. And then the facilities, the schools, the clinics, the public works that serve ordinary Americans aren’t being repaired. If you take people indicators, there’s quite a different economy.
Source: Interview on ‘Meet the Press’ , May 7, 2000

Big business lobbying subordinates democracy

The unconstrained behavior of big business is subordinating our democracy to the control of a corporate plutocracy that knows few self-imposed limits to the spread of its power to all sectors of our society. Moving on all fronts to advance narrow profit motives at the expense of civic values, large corporate lobbies have produced a commanding, multi-faceted and powerful juggernaut. They flood public elections with cash, and they use their media conglomerates to exclude, divert, or propagandize. They brandish their willingness to close factories here and open them abroad if workers do not bend to their demands. By their control in Congress, they keep the federal cops off the corporate crime, fraud, and abuse beats. They imperiously demand and get a wide array of privileges and immunities: tax escapes, enormous corporate welfare subsidies, federal giveaways, and bailouts.
Source: Green Party Announcement Speech , Feb 21, 2000

Lawyers have duty to do pro bono work for the poor

Today, the large firms engage more extensively in pro bono (or largely no-charge) activities for clients who cannot afford to pay. Some of the firms, like Hale and Dorr in Boston, display booklets trumpeting their pro bono efforts. Other firms, without much activity to warrant such a compilation, show their written policy to encourage their pro bono hourly commitments by their partners and associates and list their monetary contributions to legal and other charities. There are still other firms who think it is none of the public's or bar's business to set standards, even if voluntary, in minimum pro bono time per attorney. Not surprisingly, these collections of attorneys often operate on the lower rungs of pro bono ladders.

Each law firm, and each individual lawyer, ought to strongly consider, as part of a lawyer's duty to the justice system, the obligation to perform legal work on behalf of those unable to pay for the legal service they need.

Source: No Contest, by Ralph Nader, p.339 , Dec 22, 1998

Housing legislation converted pro bono to profit

In 1967, Pres. Johnson established the Commission on Urban Housing to develop ways to increase low- & moderate-income housing. [Corporate lawyers on the Commission] pushed through a proposal whereby wealthy investors in housing efforts would receive very large tax write-offs. In a short time Congress passed the National Corporation Housing for Partnerships (NCHP), whose promotional brochures then attracted partnerships by openly touting the “tax savings generated.” Although [Commission member & Clinton White House Counsel Lloyd] Cutler presented his firm’s efforts as pro bono publico, in reality he simply reduced his hourly billing by about 30%. By 1971, NCHP was paying Cutler’s firm’s standard rates. Cutler had conceived and lobbied into law an institution that became a client. Cutler subsequently became a paid director of NCHP.

Cutler’s work was a masterstroke--converting pro bono publico into a permanent pro bono privato client propped up by an ongoing corporate welfare scheme.

Source: No Contest, by Ralph Nader & Wesley Smith, Chapter One , Dec 1, 1998

Training & earned income credits are corporate subsidies

Q: Is the earned income credit -- which is now around $30 billion -- a subsidy for employers or employees that have this selfish disregard for the public interest?

A: Well it certainly took the steam off the drive for raising the minimum wage or at least adjusting it for inflation -- the earned income credit. Now it’s become very complex and embroiled in Congressional politics. But the job training programs were more a subsidy to corporations who really didn’t create many jobs with all these billions of taxpayer dollars it received over the last 25 years. Corporate Welfare is alive and well. The Corporate Welfare programs in the federal government are double the poverty welfare programs -- if you look at tax expenditures and all the direct subsidies and giveaways and bailouts and loan guarantees, etc. That should be a major agenda.

Source: National Public Radio, interview by Diane Rehm , Apr 3, 1996

Ralph Nader on Homelessness

Severe shortage in affordable housing

High on the agenda of the advocates for the homeless-whose organization is formally known as Health Care for the Homeless (HCH) - is the closing of the enormous gap in the supply of affordable housing. The nation is five to six million units short of the demand for the barest affordable housing. This fact places heavy pressure on the effort to find decent shelter for low and moderate income families.
Source: In the Public Interest, “Tax Cuts Homeless Problems Grow” , Jun 3, 2003

14M families spend half of their income on housing

Fourteen million families spend more than half of their entire income on housing much of it crowded and substandard, leaving little for other necessities such as food, clothing and medical care. Any payout for housing beyond that often leads to serious economic problems which push families into bankruptcy and homelessness - not to mention the fact that many forgo proper nutrition and medical care in an attempt to keep their homes.
Source: In the Public Interest, “Tax Cuts Homeless Problems Grow” , Jun 3, 2003

1.35 million children are homeless

Lack of a stable place to live is traumatic for adults, but for children the experience is particularly cruel. More than 1.35 million children are homeless at some point each year. They exist in shelters, cars, parks or pushed into already badly overcrowded quarters. The homeless life disrupts their education, exposes them to communicable diseases, malnutrition, depression and drug addictions.
Source: In the Public Interest, “Tax Cuts Homeless Problems Grow” , Jun 3, 2003

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Bill Clinton (D,1993-2001)
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Ronald Reagan (R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter (D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford (R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon (R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson (D,1963-1969)
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