Ralph Nader's Concord Principles

Ralph Nader
February 1, 1992

The Concord Principles
An Agenda for a New Initiatory Democracy

"[Whereas a selfish oligarchy has produced economic decline, the
debasement of politics, and the exclusion of citizens from the
strengthening of their democracy and political economy;

"[Whereas, this rule of the self-serving few over the Nations business
and politics has concentrated power, money, greed, and corruption far
beyond the control or accountability of citizens;

"[Whereas]", the political system, regardless of Party, has degenerated
into a government of the power brokers, by the power brokers, and for
the power brokers that is an arrogant and distant caricature of Jeffersonian democracy;

"[Whereas]" Presidential campaigns have become narrow, shallow, redundant,
and frantic parades and horse races which candidates, their monetary
backers, and their handlers control unilaterally, with the citizenry
expected to be the bystanders and compliant voters;

"[Whereas]" a pervading sense of powerlessness, denial, and revulsion is
sweeping the Nations citizens as they endure or suffer from growing
inequities, injustice, and loss of control over their future and the
future of their children; and

"[Whereas]" we, the citizens of the United States, who are dedicated to
the reassertion of fundamental democratic principles and their
application to the practical, daily events in our Nation, are committed
to begin the work of shaping the substance of Presidential campaigns and
of engaging the candidates attention to our citizen agendas

Now, therefore, we hereby present the ensuing Concord Principles to the
Presidential candidates and invite their written,
consistent, and continual adherence to these principles during their
entire campaign and in whatever public offices and responsibilities they
hold or may hold upon cessation of their campaigns:

First, democracy is more than a bundle of rights on paper; democracy
must also embrace usable facilities that empower all citizens

(a) to obtain timely, accurate information from their government;
(b) to communicate such information and their judgments to one another
through modern technology; and
(c) to band together in civic associations as voters, taxpayers,
consumers, workers, shareholders, students, and as whole human beings in
pursuit of a prosperous, just and free society.

Second, the separation of ownership of major societal assets from their
control permits the concentration of power over such assets in the hands
of the few who control rather than in the hands of the many who own. The
owners of the public lands, pension funds, savings accounts, and the
public airwaves are the American people, who have essentially little or
no control over their pooled assets or their commonwealth.

The American people should assume reasonable control over the assets
they have legally owned for many years so that their use reflects
citizen priorities for a prosperous America, mindful of the needs and
rights of present and future generations of Americans to pursue
happiness within benign environments.

Third, a growing and grave imbalance between the often converging power
of Big Business, Big Government and the citizens of this country has
seriously damaged our democracy and weakened our ability to correct this
imbalance. We lack the mechanisms of civic power. We need a modern tool
box for redeeming our democracy by strengthening our capacity for self-
government and self-reliance both as individuals and as a community of
citizens. Our 18th century democratic rights need retooling for the
proper exercise of our responsibilities as citizens in the 21st century.

Fourth, the new democracy tool box contains measures for the purpose of
protecting voters from having their voting powers diluted, over-run or
nullified. These measures are:

(a) a binding none-of-the-above option on the ballot;
(b) term limitations, 12 years and out;
(c) public financing of campaigns through well-promoted voluntary
taxpayer checkoffs on tax returns;
(d) easier voter registration and ballot access rules;
(e) state-level binding initiative, referendum, and recall authority, a
non-binding national referendum procedure; and
(f) a repeal of the runaway White House/Congressional Pay Raises back to
1988 levels -- a necessary dose of humility to the politicians.

Fifth, the new democracy tool box strengthens taxpayers who wish to
have a say in how their tax dollars are being used and how their
taxpayer assets are being protected. These objectives will be advanced
by according taxpayers full legal standing to challenge in the courts
the waste, fraud, and abuse of tax monies and taxpayer assets.
Presently, the federal judiciary places nearly insurmountable obstacles
in front of taxpayers, thereby leaving the task to the unlikely prospect
of government officials taking their own government to court.

Further, a facility for taxpayers banding together can be established
by a simple taxpayer checkoff on the 1040 tax return, inviting taxpayers
to join their national taxpayers association which would be accountable
to members on a one member-one vote standard.

Finally, obscure, overly complex, mystifying jargon pervading federal
tax, pension, election and other laws and procedures is a barrier to
taxpayer-citizen participation. The language of these laws and
procedures must be simplified and clarified as a matter of national
priority; otherwise, only special interests hiring decoders will be able
to participate while the general public is shut out.

Sixth, the new democracy tool box strengthens consumers of both
business and government services by according them:

(a) computerized access in libraries and their own homes to the full
range of government information for which they have already paid but are
now unable to obtain, either inexpensively or at all;
(b) facilities in the form of periodic inserts, included in the billing
of other envelopes sent to them by companies that are either legal
monopolies (for example, electric, gas, telephone utilities) or are
subsidized or subsidizable by the taxpayers (for example, banks and
savings and loans). These inserts invite consumers to join their own
statewide consumer action group to act as a watchdog, to negotiate and
to advocate for their interests.

A model of this facility is the Illinois Citizen Utility Board which
has saved ratepayers over $3 billion since 1983, and filled the consumer
chair before utility commissions, legislative hearings, and courtroom
proceedings on many occasions.

This type of facility costs taxpayers nothing, costs the carrying
companies or government mailings nothing (the consumer group pays for
the insert and there is no extra postage) and is voluntary for consumers
to join. Had there been such bank consumer associations with full-time
staff in the 1970s, there would not have been a trillion dollar bailout
on the taxpayers back for the S&L and commercial bank crimes,
speculations, and mismanagement debacles. These would have been nipped
in the bud at the community level by informed, organized consumer
judgement. So too would have costly and hazardous energy projects been
replaced by energy efficiency and renewable power systems; and

(c) Citizen consumers are the viewers and listeners of television and radio.
Federal law says that the public owns the public airwaves which are now
leased for free by the Federal Communications Commission to television
and radio companies. The public, whose only option is to switch dials
or turn off, deserves its own Audience Network.

The Audience Network would enhance the communication and mobilization
process between people locally and nationally. The owners of the
airwaves deserve a return of their property for one hour prime time and
drive time on all licensed stations so that their professional studios,
producers, and reporters can program what the audience believes is
important to them and their children. The proposal for Audience
Network, funded by dues from the audience-members and other non-tax
revenues, was the subject of a Congressional hearing in 1991, chaired by
Congressman Edward Markey.

Similarly, in return for cable company monopoly and other powers, cable
subscribers should be able to join their own cable viewers group through
a periodic insert in their monthly cable billing envelopes. Modern
electronic communications can play a critical role in anticipating and
resolving costly national problems when their owners gain regular usage,
as a community intelligence, to inform, alert, and mobilize democratic
citizen initiatives. Presently, these electronic broadcasting systems
are overwhelmingly used for entertainment, advertising and redundant
news, certainly not a fair reflection of what a serious society needs to
communicate in a complex age, locally, nationally, and globally.

(d) Access to justice -- to the courts, to government agencies, and to
legislatures -- is available to organized, special interests, and they
widely use these remedies. In contrast, when consumers are defrauded,
injured,rendered sick by wrongdoers or other perpetrators of their harm,
they find costly dollar and legal hurdles blocking their right of
access. They also find indentured politicians and their lobbying allies
bent on closing the doors further. Systems of justice are to be used
conveniently and efficiently by all the people in this country, not just
corporations and the wealthy. Otherwise,
the citizen shutout worsens.

Seventh, the new democracy tool box for working people contains rights
of bringing ones conscience to work without having to risk being
unfairly fired or demoted. Ethical whistle-blowers have alerted
Americans to numerous abuses in the workplace that damage workers health
and safety, contaminate the environment, and defraud consumers,
taxpayers, and shareholders. However, they often pay the penalty with
the loss of their jobs. The exercise of conscience needs simple,
effective legal protections which will build inside the corporation,
government, or other large bureaucracies the incentives for care,
prudence, and accountability that foresee or forestall larger harms.

Eighth, working people, who own over $3 trillion in pension monies, need a reasonable measure of control over where these monies are invested. Presently, a handful of banks and insurance companies control and make these decisions. During the 1980's the use of pension monies for corporate mergers, acquisitions, leveraged buyouts and other empire- building maneuvers showed what does happen when ownership is so separated from control. Control by the few often left economic wreckage behind in many communities, and such capital draining takeovers did not produce employment or new wealth.

Pension monies are gigantic capital pools that can be used productively to meet community needs, but not when their owners are excluded from any organized participation or even the right to know and review what has been decided.

Ninth, the new democracy tool box applies to recognizing shareholder democracy as well. Whether large, small or institutional shareholders (such as pension or other trust funds), the separation of ownership (of the company) from control has been documented impressively, starting with the celebrated study by Berle and Means fifty years ago. The business press is filled with reports of executives of large corporations repeatedly abusing shareholder assets and worker morale with huge salaries, bonuses, greenmail, and golden parachutes, (untied to company performance), self-perpetuating boards of directors, the stifling of the proxy voting system and blocking other shareholder voting reforms such as cumulative voting powers and access to relevant shareholder lists and information. The owners of corporations should be able to prevent their hired executives from engaging in what Business Week called casino capitalism that often ends with mass layoffs, loyal shareholder losses and communities undermined.

Tenth, the new democracy tool box needs to be taught in its historic context and present relevance as part of an engrossing civic curriculum for our country's schoolchildren. Involving all students during their later elementary and secondary school education in practical civics experience so as to develop both their citizen skills and the desire to use them, under the rule of law, can enrich schools, students, and communities alike. Where teachers have made such efforts, the children have responded responsibly and excitedly to the frequent surprise and respect of their elders. Schooling for informed and experienced participation in democratic processes is a major reservoir of future democracy and a profound human resource to be nurtured.

In conclusion, these tools for democracy have fairly common characteristics. They are universally accessible, can reduce government and other deficits, and are voluntary to use or band together around. It matters not whether people are Republicans, Democrats, or Independents. It matters only that Americans desire to secure and use these facilities or tools.

Without this reconstruction of our democracy through such facilities for informed civic participation, as noted above, even the most well- intentioned politicians campaigning for your vote cannot deliver, if elected.

Nor can your worries about poverty, discrimination, joblessness, the troubled conditions of education, environment, street and suite crime, budget deficits, costly and inadequate health care, and energy boondoggles, to list a few, be addressed constructively and endearingly. Developing these democratic tools to strengthen citizens in their distinct roles as voters, taxpayers, consumers, workers, shareholders, and students should be very high on the list of any candidates commitments to you. Unless, that is, they just want your vote, but would rather not have you looking over their shoulder from a position of knowledge, strength and wisdom.

Ralph Nader
February 1, 1992

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