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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > A Bank For Consumers

The following is an open, letter to members of Congress:

DEAR MEMBER: With report after report of de­clining economic condi­tions, massive economic waste and concentrated corporate power, many peo­ple are asking what Con­gress is going to do for the consumer.

Back in 1784, Adam Smith wrote: “Consumption is the purpose of all production, and the interest of the producer ought to be at­tended to only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.”

Yet in recent decades, Congress has approved many measures worth tens of billions of dollars to corporate producers in the form of subsidies, protec­tion from competition, tax privilege, captive markets and vastly underpriced goods, know-how and serv­ices. In return for this tax­payer largess, these companies did not have to. bind themselves legally to behavior that would advance consumer interests.

THE FAVORITISM by Congress of producer inter­ests is reflected in the daily operations of these pro- grams by federal agencies and departments which develop a buddy system with their business welfare clientele. The range of federal subsidies to business is so large that it occupied a series of compendiums by the Joint Economic Com­mittee between 1972 and 1974.

In theory, however, our economic system requires the daily- display of consum­er sovereignty.

But as the practice re­veals; it is patently unfair for consumers, already sub­ject to the well-documented adversities of fraudulent business practices and health and safety hazards, to have the federal government stack the decks so heavily in favor of producer interests.

WHY NOT take a fresh look at the consumer coop­erative way of combining private property with com­petitive enterprise owned and operated by consum­ers? To encourage stock ownership in the country’s corporations, Congress has passed tax preferences costing the Treasury bil­lions of dollars. To promote farmer producer coopera­tives, Congress established in 1933 the banks for cooper­atives, as part of the over­all farm credit system, to provide low interest loans and technical counseling to these producer cooperatives. Isn’t it about time to consider a national consumer coopera­tives bank?

In a proposal for such a bank, developed by the Cooperative League of the USA, the model of the banks for cooperatives (12 districts and one central bank) is emphasized.

Like the banks for cooperatives for farmers, the consumer cooperative bank would become owned com­pletely by the consumer cooperatives themselves. As put forward by CLUSA, such a bank would involve no government budget deficits.

In many of your districts, particularly urban areas, there is an awakening interest in cooperatives among hard-pressed consumers, especially in poor or blue-collar areas.

Art Danforth of CLUSA estimates that since 1970 there have probably been over 500 consumer goods cooperatives set up in the country, apart from the rapid proliferation of buyers -clubs. Many cannot get ade­quate credit to survive.

ENTIRE CONSUMER cooperative sub-economies could develop in a city or region with its own banks, insurance companies, adult education schools, news­papers, health delivery services, housing, artistic, cultural and athletic activi­ties, testing laboratories and restaurants — to list a few of the possible services.

What makes consumer cooperatives so attractive is that, without costing the taxpayer. they recycle the consumers’ money in a framework of self-determi­nation and self-help.

P.S.: Your constituents back home may obtain a copy of the consumer coop­erative bank proposal by writing to Stanley Dreyer, CLUSA, Suite 1100, 1528 L St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20036.