The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

The Concord Principles: An Agenda for a New Initiatory Democracy (Ralph Nader)

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 oaccountability 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 horseraces 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 during this 1992 election year;
Now, therefore, we hereby present the ensuing Concord Principles to the Presidential candidates for the 1992 election 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

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:

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 aone 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 simplifid 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:

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 1980s 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 enduringly. 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