Ralph Nader: Give Apple profits to 'serfs,' not shareholders

Full transcript of Nader's interview Saturday on National Public Radio:

SCOTT SIMON, HOST: Companies and corporations are in business to make money for themselves, their workers, their stockholders. But can they make too much? Ralph Nader thinks Apple hit that limit earlier this month when it became the first trillion-dollar publicly traded company in the United States. Mr. Nader wrote a blistering blog post about what Apple is and isn't doing with that money. He joins us now from Connecticut. Mr. Nader, thanks for being back with us.

RALPH NADER: You're welcome, Scott.

SIMON: What's wrong with Apple sitting on all that money?

NADER: Well, they just announced earlier this year - a $100 billion stock buyback adding to previous stock buyback without asking the shareholders, institutional and individual, their opinion or even their approval. So the point I was making is it could've been used to increase employees. It could've been used to shore up the pension fund. It could've been used - 2 percent of it, Scott, to double the income of the serf laborers - 1.3 million Chinese laborers in the contractor that builds the iPhones. It could have had 2 percent of 100 billion to improve the recycling of used computers and phones, which are endangering both the environment and the workers. It could've been put in productive investment. It could've been put in research and development. It could've been sent to cash dividends back to the shareholder, but no.

SIMON: Just follow up on a couple of points. Apple, I think, would say that, in fact, they have worked strenuously to greatly improve worker conditions in their Asian factories. And they have some pretty ambitious programs about green technology and recycling. Do you accept that?

NADER: Well, they have said that, and they've done a little of that. But they're starting from a very low base. The kind of income that the Chinese workers are making under tremendous pressure by their contractor is really not a living wage, even in China. And certainly, you know, NPR has reported on how the corporations demanded the tax cuts from Trump and the Republican Congress last year. Why did they demand it? So they could have more capital to engage in productive investment and jobs.

Well, what they didn't admit is if they wanted all this capital, why have they spent $7 trillion - these companies in stock buybacks since 2005 - which is double the federal government's current entire budget if they needed capital for productive investment? Stock buybacks do not create any jobs. They don't create any productive investment. And they're a signal to corporate observers that, while people like Tim Cook know how to make a lot of money for the company, they don't know really what to do with it other than to enhance their own executive compensation package.

SIMON: Still, it's a remarkable turnaround for Apple, isn't it? I mean, just a couple of decades ago, I think they were on the brink of extinction.

NADER: There's no doubt. It was a great turnaround. But under Steve Jobs, stock buybacks were prohibited. He paid himself very little. When Tim Cook came over, everything changed. And while they know how to make enormous money with their overpriced iPhones, they don't know how to productively use it. And Marxists of many decades ago would never have dreamed that corporations would pile up all this capital and not know how to use it productively.

SIMON: Mr. Nader, do you own an iPhone?


SIMON: Apple laptop?


SIMON: On principle or just because you prefer other products?

NADER: One, I want to get a day's work done, so I'm not involved in email and all the nonsense. I'm very available by phone - our office never has voicemail. Human beings answer the phone (laughter). And I use an Underwood typewriter. When the electricity goes out with a thunderstorm, I'm still working, Scott.

SIMON: Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and author of many books, including now the paperback "Breaking Through Power: It's Easier Than We Think". Mr. Nader, thanks so much.

NADER: It is easier than we think. Thank you, Scott.

My take: Nader's record as an activist is mixed. He is best known for Unsafe at Any Speed, which gave us the seat belt, and his 2000 third-party run for the presidency, which gave us George W. Bush.


  1. David Emery said:
    Ralph Nader is great at telling other people how to spend their money.

    August 13, 2018
  2. Richard Wanderman said:
    Ralph Nader is unsafe at any speed.

    August 13, 2018
  3. Peter Kropf said:
    Isn’t this the Ralph Nader who ran against Al Gore loudly attacking him for not being sufficiently Green (environmentally). How’d that go? And what has Ralph done for the planet since then?

    Thanks, Ralph. You made your footnote to history in 2000 and your words today are just as weird as they were then. Back to the past, Ralph.

    August 13, 2018
  4. George Knott said:
    Geez, with ideas like that good thing he didn’t become President. Without embracing technology, America would be a third world country and surely unable to even attempt to protect our democracy or whatever form of government we have these days!!! …..ugggghhhh….another radical crazy with just enough followers to have an impact as in 2000.

    August 13, 2018
  5. John Blackburn said:
    Apple has a pension plan? Returning cash to shareholders would have been okay, but buybacks are bad? I would answer these questions and more, but only if you call 555-1212.

    August 13, 2018
  6. Fred Stein said:
    While I admire Nader’s many contributions, using Apple as an example does not fit. It’s a rookie journalist ploy. Apple sets the bar for green and fair employment practices globally (I’m with you, Philip, on the daycare issue – exception).

    Yes, there is serious problem with wealth disparity. Apple is taking action. Nader should read this: https://9to5mac.com/2018/01/17/tim-cook-bonus-email-to-employees/

    1) Apple will match all employee charitable donations, up to $10,000 annually, at a rate of two to one. In addition, Apple will double the amount we match for each hour you donate your time.

    2) Apple will be issuing a $2,500 grant of restricted stock units to “all individual contributors and management up to and including Senator Managers worldwide.”

    August 13, 2018
    • David Emery said:
      > including Senator Managers worldwide.

      So Apple has a special job category for people who manage politicians? 🙂

      August 14, 2018
  7. Gregg_Thurman@me.com said:
    The Tucker has seat belts in 1949. Our 1956 Oldsmobile had them, as did many other makes. They were options yes, but Nader had nothing to do with them.

    Unsafe At Any Speed was flawed. Two separate federal studies could not duplicate his results. And finally, Nader didn’t kill the Corsair, American manufacturing quality (lack thereof) and Japanese imports did. Nader is an over rated buffoon, using his “environmental” creds to make a living on the rubber chicken circuit.

    In my opinion he is an empty suit skilled at keeping his name in the limelight and nothing more.

    August 13, 2018
    • Richard Wanderman said:
      I agree.

      Corvair (“corsair” is a navy/marine plane).

      August 14, 2018
  8. Jonathan Mackenzie said:
    Nader was not responsible for Al Gore’s loss. Gore did not even carry his home state of TN. Gore was responsible for Gore’s loss.

    We have seen some really wooden candidates in the last 40 years. Bob Dole, Al Gore, John Kerry, Mitt Romney, and Hilary Clinton. Every single one of these boring duds lost. They were beaten by Bill Clinton, George W Bush (x2), Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. In nearly every presidential election, being boring or too wonky or just plain stiff is an insurmountable obstacle.

    It wasn’t Nader’s fault that Bush won. It was the Democrats’ fault for nominating someone so clearly not up to the task of energizing voters. Personality wins presidential elections.

    But Nader is wrong about Apple for all the reasons that have been discussed before.

    Last point I want to make is about Bob Dole. He was not an especially wooden person. He actually has a great sense of humor and can be wry and self deprecating. But his campaign was awful. He was coached to act “Presidential” which robbed voters of the chance to see his human side. He appeared stiff and dull even if his natural personality was not. As a result, he turned off many voters.

    Boring does not win presidential elections.

    August 13, 2018
    • David Emery said:
      Dole also had terrible on-the-ground organization, at least in the NH primaries. I remember going to the polls and seeing people waving signs for every other candidate for the Republican nomination. (I voted for Dole anyway 🙂 )

      August 14, 2018
  9. Gregg_Thurman@me.com said:
    “Personality wins presidential elections.”

    Wasn’t it Churchill that said something like “Democracy is the best form of government until you have a 5-minute talk with the average voter”?

    My first election was for Nixon vs Humphrey in 1968. I hadn’t missed an election since then until 2008. I haven’t voted since. Elections are no longer decided on issues that matter, but on how well the nominees can whip up the electorates’ emotions.

    August 13, 2018
  10. Robert Paul Leitao said:
    Let’a see… Mr. Nader doesn’t use Apple products and he’s never been a shareholder. Yet he believes he’s a legitimate expert on how Apple should return capital to those who are shareholders.


    He eschews modern digital technologies and uses a typewriter. That’s OK. To each their own. But this is akin to a horseshoe maker attempting to school the head of NASA on how to allocate resources to explore the universe.

    What Mr. Nader may not understand is when Apple repurchases shares the money doesn’t leave the market. Apple’s capital return program is like jet fuel for the economy. The dollars are reinvested in enterprises that create jobs and more opportunities in the US and around the world.

    According to the company, Apple is responsible for the creation of 2 million jobs, including jobs created through the App Store economy. Apple is also a leader in employment diversity, inclusion and supplier responsibility.

    I’m sure Mr. Nader could find a more suitable target for his angst and ire. All he needs to do is pick-up an iPad and do some research.

    August 13, 2018
    • Fred Stein said:
      Well said. The core error of Nader and others like him, who use Apple to make point, or rather to advance a bias, is they fail to separate the value of creating wealth with the need to address economic inequities. Policies that help create wealth will increase inequity. We need other policies to deal with inequity. Worse in Nader’s case, facts don’t support his use of Apple as an example. He doesn’t care. Big companies are bad in his view.

      This is especially true in tech, in its broadest sense. The world is going to innovate wether it’s manufacturing processes, new computing architectures, or new batteries, etc. It’s better when the US leads and optimizes globally. That’s exactly what Apple is doing. Now that Apple is bringing all it’s globally earned cash home and paying a more reasonable tax, our citizens are getting a piece of it. (Other parts of the tax code are not good, IMHO.)

      August 13, 2018
  11. Turley Muller said:
    Shore up the PENSION PLAN? WTF is he talking about. He shouldn’t make statements about things he has zero knowledge of.

    Socialism has proven to be a failed economic ideology

    August 13, 2018

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