Ralph Nader’s Unstoppable

Ralph Nader’s new book, Unstoppable, describes a convergence of ideas on the political left and political right against the corporate state.  The book says there is a broad consensus, from socialists to libertarians, who oppose government policies that provide corporate welfare and bailouts for the economic elite and impose the costs on everyone else.  This widespread opposition to corporatism manifests itself in political groups ranging from the Occupy Wall Street movement to the Tea Party.

I’ve noticed the same thing, and a few months ago commented in The Beacon about the similar conclusions Joseph Stiglitz, on the left, and David Stockman, on the right, drew about how government policies favored the cronies — the 1 percent — over everyone else.  And shortly before that, I noted my nearly complete agreement with self-described Progressive Cynthia Tucker’s column critical of government policies that favor the well-connected elite over the general public.

Like Nader, I am encouraged when I am able to agree with people whose political views differ substantially from mine.

It’s true that people from one end of the political spectrum to the other oppose corporatism, at least in the abstract.  When we get to specific cases, that opposition is not so clear.  Corporate bailouts were supported by Presidents Bush and Obama, and by a compliant Congress.  Green energy subsidies are popular with certain groups, and business investment and job creation incentives are popular with other groups.

So, Nader’s idea that this movement, with broad-based political support, is unstoppable, is not so clear.  People oppose the corporate state in the abstract, but we don’t vote up or down on whether we want a corporate state.  We vote for individual policies, and there, the corporate state seems to get lots of support across the political spectrum, from left to right.  Some people favor subsidies to green energy.  Some people favor investment incentives.  The interests that favor those corporatist policies seem to have the political clout to win out.

Nader’s idea that a vague “coalition” of people from throughout the political spectrum can somehow unite to overcome powerful and entrenched political interests seems like wishful thinking.

Nader lists 25 policy goals, and without reciting the list, I will just say that I agree with some of them, but not with others.  Therein lies the real problem with any proposal to reform the status quo.  Lots of people don’t like the current state of affairs.  That’s why Nader can perceive widespread convergence on the opposition to the corporate state.  But those people who oppose the status quo all have different ideas on what should be done to change it.  So, there is always more agreement on the problem than on how it should be solved.

Nader’s book does have a point, which is that if we can get past political labels, there is a substantial agreement across the political spectrum on many problems with public policy.  But, there is less agreement on the solutions.

Randall G. Holcombe is Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. His Independent books include Housing America: Building Out of a Crisis (edited with Benjamin Powell); and Writing Off Ideas: Taxation, Foundations, and Philanthropy in America .
Full Biography and Recent Publications
Beacon Posts by Randall Holcombe | Full Biography and Publications
  • Catalyst
  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org