Harvard Law Record on Nader’s super-rich: “These 17 and some of their friends may indeed be the most realistic hope we have”
February 12, 2010
Most of [the seventeen billionaires named in Nader's] story currently spend fortunes on charity—on advancing values not far from those promoted by Nader. But what they do in his fantasy is stop spending the vast proportion of it on direct services. This is not to say that the billions spent on AIDS or malaria abatement have not yielded important results; the 2009 data from UNICEF shows real reductions in child mortality worldwide. Some of Nader’s “characters”—all real persons—are largely responsible for this progress. But their donations are not strongly leveraged, as Nader would propose.
What Nader essentially does is imagine a world where the super-rich seek more than malaria containment—where they seek leveraged change in public investment and decisions. Interestingly, Citizens United may make that shift both more needed and more feasible legally. For if corporations can independently campaign for political candidates protecting the value of their drilling rights and seek to burn carbon accumulated over four billion years as if it were a sparkler lit on the 4th of July, why cannot those who have wealth, lacking such a sunk-cost bias, do likewise? Why can’t Soros and Buffet and Gates and the rest—with wealth freed from direct exploitation bias and able to factor in future costs—participate in countervailing political discourse?
Nader imagines that they end their dabbling and “feel good” dispensation of shots to wide-eyed children and do the work of changing ground rules so that political candidates are bought by the public, not by special interests, so that political campaigns have substance beyond ten-second sound bites and brainless namecalling, so that the many have access to the courts, so that agencies hear from many interests regularly, so that no business is too big to fail.
The fun of reading this book is in joining the author’s fantasy, but punctuating it with our own tactics—what we would do to correct the world’s deviant path had we the resources and visibility of these 17. The characters in this book seek structural and leveraged change—advocacy for public budgets and laws and international agreements—that properly embody more than the exploitation of narrow self-interest. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has radically shifted ground and allowed (contrary to the judgment of the people’s democratic institutions) many billions of corporate and union money to directly influence elections, those interests with capital investment in current profitable enterprise—whether it be mining the seas, polluting the earth, or collecting medical benefits for power wheelchairs and Cialis on the backs of their grandchildren—will increasingly lock-in their self-protection and their imposed external burden on others. Their free ride, notwithstanding future costs, will be further and irretrievably calcified into public law.
Although pathetic, it appears as if these 17 and some of their friends may indeed be the most realistic hope we have.