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Nader says he is proud of changes he’s helped to enact but sees problems now with corporations gaining more power

Ralph Nader ’55 has devoted a 60-year career to criticizing corporate rapacity and misgovernance. It is a surprise, then, to see him say something nice (selectively) about top management. In his new book, The Rebellious CEO, 12 Leaders Who Got It Right (Melville House), Nader holds up some positive examples he wishes more would emulate.

The book might be described as a Profiles in Courage for the C-suite. Nader thinks about that analogy for a moment. “But it’s not great courage,” he quibbles. “They’re not Nathan Hale.” They simply did what everyone ought to do, but doesn’t.

Let’s not be churlish, though. Nader has encountered admirable characters at the top of the corporate ladder. He leads off with a fellow alum, the late John Bogle ’51, founder of the Vanguard Group, one of the first index funds. Vanguard pioneered low-cost and low-fee investing, making it available to people of modest means. As Bogle put it, Vanguard tried to “give our small citizen/investors a fair shake.”

As if that weren’t enough, Bogle devoted his last book, Enough: True Measures of Money, Business, and Life, to reminding people that there are higher values than grasping for every dollar on the table. He denounced “not only our worship of wealth and the growing corruption of our professional ethics but ultimately the subversion of our character and values.”

Bogle, Nader says, “was a really great man.”

Others who make the list include Anita Roddick, former CEO of The Body Shop, who insisted that employees work on a civic mission of their own choice on company time. (“If you ever wanted to see a full-fledged human being,” Roddick was the one, Nader says.) Also, B. Rapoport, founder of the American Income Life Insurance Co., which not only was one of the few companies to sell insurance to labor unions but was itself unionized, at Rapoport’s insistence.

As Nader observes, these CEOs tended to be founders, which gave them more control over the company’s direction and culture. More important, “they put workers, consumers, and the environment up front. They had a moral compass.” Sadly, from Nader’s perspective, they were exceptions rather than the rule. Asked if he could have expanded his list beyond a dozen, Nader answers, “Put it this way, it wouldn’t have been easy to go much beyond that.”

Having said some positive things about the culture of big business, Nader is not optimistic about the state of the country. Income inequality is up, regulatory enforcement is down, and corporations are even more dangerous because their power is linked to new technologies.

“When you connect big corporations with AI and with nanotech and biotech, with no legal or ethical framework, you’re heading toward disaster,” he warns.

Another thing that worries Nader is social media, which preys on children, monetizing their personal data, exposing them to junk food and violence, undermining parental authority, and separating them from their communities. He calls social media companies “electronic child abductors.”

Still, steer Nader onto less charged subjects and he is inquisitive and engaging — chatty, even. He remains devoted to Princeton, fondly recalling professors, such as Marver Bernstein, who influenced him as an undergraduate. He is especially proud of his class’s philanthropic work, asking to put in a plug for the Princeton Alumni Corps, formerly Project 55.

Nader, who turns 90 in February, does not seem to be slowing down. (“I’m knocking wood as you say that,” he remarks.) He has two more books coming out in 2024, one a collection of his columns and the other, co-authored with consumer advocate Mark Green, about expanding civic engagement by parents, workers, and consumers.

Best known as a consumer, financial, and environmental watchdog as well as a political candidate, Nader still writes at his website, But he is also a little bit of yesterday’s news. Rather than hector the public, he wants to engage it, but reporters, educators, and legislators no longer return his calls the way they used to. “You can’t have an intellectual relationship with a faculty that doesn’t return calls,” he complains. “You can’t exercise your First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances if they don’t respond.”

Not that Nader is always an easy man to reach. “I’m old fashioned,” he boasts. “I don’t have a cell phone. I don’t have an email address. I don’t have a credit card. I’m a free human being.” Although Nader writes some of the tweets that run on his X account, someone else posts them and he never visits the site.

Asked to assess whether his long career was a success, Nader turns philosophical.

“We’re pleased with all the lives saved,” he begins. “There’s less lead in people’s blood now, less water pollution in some rivers, less traumatic death in the workplace, a lot of consumer protections.” He quotes his father, a Lebanese immigrant, who used to say that he was pleased by how far the country had come, but displeased about how much still was left to do.

“That is how I look at our efforts over the years,” Nader says. “They are now under tremendous assault. Corporations are much more powerful. Corporate crime enforcement is almost nonexistent, especially against executives. So, here we go again.”