Corporate Greed Economy Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader: The Continuing Damages from Corporate-Managed so-Called Free Trade

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Photo by Laura Tancredi on

By Ralph Nader

The great progressive Harvard economist and prolific best-selling author, John Kenneth Galbraith, wrote that, “Ideas may be superior to vested interest. They are also very often the children of vested interest.” I wished he had written that assertion before I took Economic 101 at Princeton. One of the vested ideas taught as dogma then was the comparative advantage theory developed by the early 19th century British economist, David Ricardo. He gave the example of trading Portuguese wine for British textiles with both countries coming out winners due to their superior efficiencies in producing their native products.

Ricardo’s theory drove policy and political power for two centuries fortifying the corporate and conservative proponents of alleged “free markets” (See: Destroying the Myths of Market Fundamentalism) and “free trade.” The theory’s endurance was remarkably resistant to contrary obvious empirical evidence. Whether Ricardo envisioned or not, “free trade” became an instrument of colonialism entrenching poor nation’s in extracting and exporting of natural resources while becoming almost totally dependent on western nations’ value-added manufactured products. “Iron ore for iron weapons” as one observer summed it up. Tragically, too often, the weapons came with the invaders/oppressors.

Fast forward to today’s supply chain crisis disrupting the flow of commerce. Why does the world’s largest economy and technology leader have a supply chain problem forcing businesses and consumers to helplessly wait for simple and complex goods to arrive at our shores? Why did we find ourselves in March 2020 desperately waiting on an Italian factory to sell us simple protective equipment to safeguard patients, nurses, and physicians to address the pandemic’s deadly arrival? Answer – the touted theory of comparative advantage embedded in so-called “free trade.”

In reality there is no such thing. It is corporate managed trade under the guise of “free trade.” As Public Citizen attorney Lori Wallach asked her audiences, while holding up heavy volumes of NAFTA and WTO trade agreements – “If its free trade why are there all these pages of rules?” Because they are corporate rules often having little to do with trade and everything to do with the subordination of labor, consumer and environmental rights and priorities.

These agreements, secretly arrived at, made sure that they pulled down higher U.S. standards in these areas instead of having them pull up serf labor, polluting factories and consumer abuses in authoritarian nations. Corporate managed trade leads to inherently dangerous dependencies, such as no antibiotics being produced in the U.S., which imports these and other critical drugs from unregulated Chinese and Indian laboratories. The supply chain enchains.

A remarkable take down appeared in a lengthy essay titled “The Idea of a Local Economy” twenty-one years ago by the agrarian wise man, Wendell Berry, who used a larger framework taking apart the so-called “free trade,” under monetized corporate control over governments, a clueless media and academics still indentured to Ricardo theory. He didn’t go after the obvious – that imported products from serf-labor countries are corporate opportunities to make even more profits by keeping prices high. Other than textiles, note the high prices of Asian-made computers, iPhones, electronic toys, Nike shoes and foreign motor vehicles sold to American consumers. This imbalance allows Apple’s boss Tim Cook to pay himself $833 a minute or $50,000 an hour. The markups on these products are staggering, but not as staggering as the plight of Apple’s one million serf laborers in China.

Berry opens up new horizons on  the deception called “free trade” to wit, “Unsurprisingly, among people who wish to preserve things other than money – for instance, every region’s native capacity to produce essential goods – there is a growing perception that the global “free market” economy is inherently an enemy to the natural world, to human health and freedom to industrial workers, and to farmers and others in the land-use economies, and furthermore that it is inherently an enemy to good work and good economic practice.”

The farmer-thinker, Berry, listed numerous erroneous assumptions behind corporatist global trade. A few follow:

  1. “That there can be no conflict between economic advantage and economic justice.”
  2. “That there is no conflict between the “free market” and political freedom; and no connection between political democracy and economic democracy.”
  3. “That the loss of destruction of the capacity anywhere to produce necessary goods does not matter and involves no cost.”
  4. “That it is all right for a nation’s or a region’s subsistence to be foreign-based, dependent on long-distance transport and entirely controlled by corporations.”
  5. “That cultures and religions have no legitimate practical or economic concerns.”
  6. “That wars over commodities – our recent Gulf War, for example – are legitimate and permanent economic functions.”
  7. “That it is all right for poor people in poor countries to work at poor wages to produce goods for export to affluent people in rich countries.”
  8. “That there is no danger and no cost in the proliferation of exotic pests, weeds, and diseases that accompany international trade and that increase with the volume of trade.”

A common theme in Berry’s warnings is that monetized corporations, in their ferocious search for profits, destroy or undermine far more important non-monetized democratic values of societies. That, in turn, leads to suppression of impoverished societies on the ground where people live, work and raise their families.

That is why limitless greed, unbridled, whether formed from Empires or by domestic plutocrats, eventually produce convulsions which devour their mass victims and themselves.

Website: Destroying the Myths of Market Fundamentalism –
Website: The Idea of a Local Economy by Wendell Berry –

Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader is an American political activist, author, lecturer, and attorney noted for his involvement in consumer protection, environmentalism, and government reform causes. The son of Lebanese immigrants to the United States, Nader attended Princeton University and Harvard Law School.


  1. 06/24/22

    Laren Breitbart posed her children with assault rifles. I posed my children with signs that said “Genuinely support our troops. Bring them home now, alive” during the Gulf War. To be sure, both are using innocent and unknowing children to promote their parent’s views. I wonder, though, how different that is from our public schools and the very little truth about USA history that they teach? Been reading a book I hope they teach in schools someday, with fact checks, called the Devil’s Chessboard by David Talbot. What a sad, misdirected country we are, and all our true and good heros assassinated by the CIA using others to do their bidding. If MLK knew all this, how was he able to see hope in the promise and dream of what America could be. Even the phrase, All Men Are Created Equal, is lacking the other half of humanity. Had the powerful landowners been more fair minded and evenly keeled, they would have said, All People Are Created Equal or even all earthlings are created equal, including animals. Why is it that white men deny that truth? And why is it white men who coup and assassinate others like MLK, JFK, Malcolm X, the young and beautiful Fred Hampton? Or democratically elected leaders like Allende in Chile and so many other nations. And why get so hateful towards a leader like Castro who claimed his nation’s resources for Cubans, rather than all the white men who control corporations like United Fruit and the energy sector. I knew some of the true history of the USA when Gulf War started and my boys were young and I did not want them to ever die in a war fighting for resources that were not even ours, but belonged to the people who lived there. This whole business of economics is not trading, but taking, by force if necessary.

  2. Why would Ralph be disappointed with free trade when the very consumers he attempts to stand up for all transact with IUO’s that are called legal tender ? Doesn’t he know that it’s perfectly legal to trade with debt-free and sovereign market money ???

    Consumers are contributing to the problem and then looking to lay blame on someone else.
    The proof is in the wallet. Look ! What do you see ? Stop whining like a bunch of socialists. Use your own money the way that God intended.

  3. The opening comments are priceless. I love the education I get for free, but if sheer post will send me a POB number, I will be very happy to contribute to all my heros. It will not be much, but can be monthly. I live on little and I’m proud of it, but it doesn’t help those I believe in when faced with those who screwed us for since we arrived as white folks from an imperialist nation.
    I figure if every poor person, no matter their color, which was Fred Hampton’s danger to the CIA , Dulles and others and got him assassinated in his bed at 24 years old, donated $5.00 a month, your truthful journalism would be supported.
    Fred Hampton was speaking to the masses and in a way that precluded “rap.” The young man had a rap that blows me away, even today and so little about him. Please do an article on him, if you haven’t already. Certainly worth repeating. And convincing some damn film maker to put together what his sacrifice was to and in a covert war against leaders who would take our country to its promise.

  4. Unnaturally transporting things all over the world is a disaster environmentally, even before industrial society. The people who traveled from China to Polynesia brought non-native animals who killed the native ones, often making them extinct. Industrial shipping is of course far worse, with so many hideously monstrous ships making so much noise that the whales and other marine life can’t hear each other properly, massive consumption of oil, massive air pollution including global warming, etc.

    Nader is mostly right as far as he goes, but he looks at this through the very myopic lens of economy. These are not free trade agreements, they are investors rights agreements. On the other hand, there have been advantages to poorer countries from moving manufacturing jobs there. Extreme poverty in China has been eliminated, for example. So for the Americans who lost jobs, others gained them.

    Things should be manufactured and sold locally. The idea that it’s OK to just ship things all over and the planet be damned has to end. If something can’t be made locally, it either isn’t needed or humans shouldn’t be living there. As an added lefty bonus, greatly restricting or eliminating long-distance trade would also end imperialism, because the U.S. wouldn’t be able to use things like oil from other countries.

    1. To Jeff,
      ” So for the Americans who lost jobs, others gained them.”
      Yup a real lose/win scenario ….
      Guess that’s sorta the point

  5. Hmm, does Ralph realize (or was he trying to make his own point) that clicking the links to “Destroying the Myths of Market Fundamentalism” pull up a screen that says “This video is private” . Was looking forward to watching it, but alas – it’s “private”, not in the “free” market 😀

  6. Ralph Nader gets to the real truth, again. I have listened
    To the arguments corporation make ( That Berry lists), ad nauseum, and it frustrates me so much to listen to their BS, and worse, so many people believe it!!!! So frustrating, that people don’t see through it!!!

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