Prof. Nader Goes Global
9.27.00 | PITTSBURGH -- As anti-globalization protesters and police clashed violently in distant Prague on Tuesday, Ralph Nader took a night off from campaigning for president to tutor a packed hall of college students in the intricacies of 21st century capitalism.
Sponsored by a Carnegie Mellon University student board that prohibits political promotions, the Green Party candidate seemed relieved to forego the duties of self-promotion for two hours of straight, if at times exceedingly dense, talk on the human consequences of the so-called global economy.
"The corporate model of globalization means domination of government policy, domination of media, and a command of science and technology for the purpose of concentrating global corporate power throughout the world," Nader said. "When you combine the governmental, media and technological assets of a giant corporation and then focus on capital assets at its command, you get a formidable array of excess. Corporate interests break through the boundaries of propriety of restraint and run roughshod over values of health, safety, equality, and so on."
As he often has during his presidential run, Nader pointed to the pharmaceutical, agricultural, biotechnology, military, oil and media industries as primary culprits of the "corporate globalization that is homogenizing cultures." And he denounced the World Trade Organization, and the NAFTA and GATT trade agreements, claiming that only one member of the U.S. Congress had read the 14,000 pages of a WTO trade agreement for which they voted.
"(They were) working off memos from the Clinton Administration, very short, rosy memos, and their salary checks never bounced in the meantime," Nader said of the lawmakers.
As these crucial trade agreements were drafted, people were made to believe that "free trade" was necessary to oppose protectionism, he said, while it was actually a misnomer, with the treaties rendering everything freely available for ownership, copyright and conglomeration in the hands of a few.
He veered from his prepared notes for several minutes to indict the media for incubating illiteracy in children -- joking that entire conversations now sound like "kind of, sort of, yeah, well, cool" -- and for packaging ten minutes of fluffy, irrelevant weather banter into the nightly news.
"Popular culture is driven by one yardstick and that is maximization of profits after sales," Nader said. "It drives itself to the lowest sensual denominator because that's where it achieves sales, and now a whole generation of spectators is emerging worldwide, with more serious consequences than just the loss of plazas and interpersonal relations between human beings."
Although he suggested a repeal of the recent global trade agreements and ripped into the IMF for destructive lending practices, Nader did acknowledge the World Bank has done some positive things.
"The World Bank has a health arm that buys medicines for people," he said. "I've spoken with a lot of World Bank officials, and what I think they need to do is move their mission in the direction of health and safety and educational infrastructure. There's a huge need in these areas, and it would deplete their resources for doing damaging projects as well."
The roughly 800 who packed the auditorium were not all Nader supporters; Carnegie Mellon is a breeding ground for technology, engineering and financial talent -- not civic activists like Nader. A flip through the student newspaper shows the brokerage Salomon Smith Barney wooing students with the promise of a casual-dress policy, and Bank of America advertising opportunities in global corporate and investment banking.
Mark Friegen, an electrical engineering student, said Nader's "ideas are not economically or politically feasible. He mentioned taxing stock purchases at a quarter of a percent, which is ridiculous. The government already takes enough money. I don't believe in socialism, which is what Nader is advocating and which is what Europe has. I like the American way of having a large house; I don't want to live in a crappy apartment and drive a small French car."
Still, although several students challenged Nader on the economic viability of his ideas, the majority seemed eagerly supportive. Daniel Guzman, an art student who has never voted before, said he will cast his first vote this November and is leaning toward Nader, in part because of the globalization issue he hammers on at every opportunity.
"To be honest, six months ago I had never heard of the IMF or the World Bank," Guzman said, "but the more I heard about Nader, the more interested I became so I did some studying. Now I'm pretty aware of what's going on and I support Nader's ideas."