When Nader Speaks, All Listen, Many Disagree

A packed house found chicken soup for the liberal soul Tuesday when activist, former presidential candidate and “full-time citizen” Ralph Nader took the stage to lecture at Westminster College. Nader delivered a scathing critique of a global economic system he said is placing “commercial values over civic values.” He said the economic regime imposed by treaties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization are undermining America’s sovereignty over economic activity within its borders. He pointed to the WTO’s ability to force America to accept imports produced by child labor as a prime example of his claim. America has to strike down laws the WTO considers barriers to free trade, he said. “We’ve had five challenges to our environmental laws and we’ve lost all five,” Nader said. “These trade agreements are pull-down agreements, pulling down standards to the levels favored by multinational corporations.” Nader has a history of activism on behalf of workers, consumers and the environment. Rising to national attention in the 1960s after writing the auto industry expose, “Unsafe at any Speed,” Nader went on to fight for numerous consumer safety laws. He was the Green Party candidate for president in 2000. During the lecture, Nader said he’s not anti-business, but that nations have to guide corporate goals to the needs of their people. “It’s not that we don’t recognize the value of lowered trade barriers,” he said. “Most of us took Economics 101.” But he said the best way for developing countries to improve economies isn’t to build products for multinational companies for export, but to work on expanding domestic markets. Nader’s lecture was part of the John Findley Green lecture series, an ongoing series of lectures that have included Winston Churchill, Mikhail Gorbachev and Margaret Thatcher. The first John Findley Green lecture was in 1937. Westminster College President Fletcher Lamkin said he didn’t see anything unusual about the anti-establishment Nader speaking as part of the series. “The lectures are intended to promote understanding of social and economic problems,” Lamkin said. “I think Mr. Nader’s lecture qualifies in that regard.” St. Louis resident Emily Kirk said she found Nader’s views interesting enough to drive almost two hours to see him speak. “I’m just embarrassed that I couldn’t find time to change into my jeans,” Kirk said, gesturing to her conservative skirt and matching blazer. “You can’t go see Ralph Nader wearing a suit.”