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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Gap Between Myth and Reality

I’ve come across an increasing number of news reports lately which show how deep the gap is between what consumers and citizens are expected to believe and what actually occurs.

The theory is that when sellers have more products to sell than consumers are buying, prices should be reduced. The practice is more and more just the op­posite. Car sales are declining, yet the auto companies keep increasing their prices. Recently, Ford upped its prices twice in one month! There is a present glut of petroleum in the world markets but the oil companies have resisted reducing their prices at the pump over the past year.

The theory is that if you consume less, you save money. The practice often is different. A study by the Long Island Consumer Action Group found that homeowners in New York city and Long Island con­sumed 10 percent less heating oil than the previous year and paid 40 percent more. Part of that increase was due, of course, to public and private cartel ac­tions. But another part came from an increase in dealer margins “by an average of 5 cents per gallon to make up for the 10 percent dropoff in sales,” ac­cording to interviews with fuel oil dealers conducted by the authors of the report.

Millions of utility consumers have witnessed utilities upping their rates because their sales were down due to consumer conservation.

The theory is that criminal law does not distinguish between rich and poor. Note how the rich are treated as reported last month in the business daily, Journal of Commerce: “Three executives of J. Ray McDer­mott & Co. and Brown & Root, Inc. have been fined and put on probation for their parts in a massive scheme to rig bids on off-shore oil construction projects throughout the world.

” ‘The enormity of this conspiracy in restraint of trade boggles the imagination,” said U.S. district Judge Lansing Mitchell at the sentencing Wednesday. However, he said he decided not to send the three executives to prison because other defendants who pleaded no-contest to similar charges in the case had been given suspended sentences and fines.”

In these days of maximum partisan political ac­tivity to elect the next president, it is remarkable how both parties assiduously ignore the waves of corporate mismanagement, business crime and consumer abuse that is sweeping the nation. Court trials, congressional hearings, confessions by business executives them­selves and self-evident callousness as reflected in the thousands of toxic waste dumps around the country should all amount to at least one major political issue. Not to the Republicans or Democrats. Instead, these parties are falling over one another to provide welfare payments to Big Business and to curry the favor of the moguls for campaign money.

The behavior of both Carter and Kennedy at the occasion of the partial trucking deregulation bill signing ceremonies at the White House illustrates this aversion to placing obvious accountability at the doorstep of business. Both men knew very well that business lobbyists got congress to set up the trucking regulation system years ago to shield them from competition and allow them to fix prices legally. Both men knew that the trucking industry openly fought deregulation for several years before losing out last month on Capitol Hill.

So what did they say at the White House? Carter said the legislation will get “the federal government’s nose out of the private lives of the American people.” Kennedy added that the law “will get the heavy hand of government out of the private sector.” Both threw away opportunities to enlighten the public.

So once again our government is described as the culprit when it was merely the hostage of a business-structured cartel. Once again men who would presume to lead our government take the lead in unfairly blaming it. Small wonder that the mismanagers of corporations are encouraged to use the government as their all-purpose scapegoat and expand the gap between myth and reality.