Consumer Advocate Raps Business Ethics in '90S INTERVIEW

Article excerpt

ALMOST 30 years after his famous book "Unsafe at Any Speed," Ralph Nader is still campaigning for the American consumer.

He spoke last week on consumer rights in real estate at a conference sponsored by the Massachusetts Homebuyers Club. In his typically pointed fashion, Mr. Nader described the $20-billion real estate brokerage industry as a "remarkably resilient cartel ... that is not going to give up its privileges and prerogatives easily."

In an interview, Nader commented more broadly about consumer rights in the '90s:

What are the prospects for consumer rights under the Clinton administration?

I think the level of enforcement will go up for existing standards and regulations - just how sharply remains to be seen. But I think we'll see more vigorous enforcement of antitrust rules, in product safety, at the Federal Trade Commission, Food and Drug Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission.

Looking back over the last 12 years, what areas suffered most under Reagan and Bush?

The {regulatory} agencies were almost effectively shut down.

People went to work, they got their paycheck, but very little happened.

For the first six years {under Reagan}, for example, there wasn't a single drinking water safety standard issued, even though Ford and Carter people had laid the groundwork for a raft of control standards on various chemicals contaminating the drinking water supply.

What I'm most concerned about is whether Clinton and Gore develop a philosophy of consumer protection the way they {have said they} intend to do for environmental protection.

Do you expect the Clinton administration to pursue liability law reform?

They'll make some attempts on medical malpractice. I hope it's not to restrict but to expand the rights of victims.

Medical malpractice reform means different things to different people. To doctors it means restricting their liability. To consumers, it means getting the 9 out of 10 victims of malpractice who receive no justice at all to receive some justice.

I don't think the whole {former vice president Dan} Quayle philosophy of federally regulating state juries and judges is going to be given the time of day.

Do you see improvement in ethics and standards of big business over the last 30 years? …