Robert Reich, Ph.D. is an economist, Rhodes Scholar, former Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, and professor of political science or economics at UC Berkeley. He has a good heart, and has been a tireless advocate for fiscal sanity, political fairness, economic justice, and progressivism for almost 40 years. As a small man (due to a genetic condition), he was beaten up quite a bit as a child. Robert Reich, however, has the heart of a lion. He used to be a centrist, and in the Ford Administration. But he has seen the goalposts move, as it were, in the last 40 years, and is very aware of the inequality and the insecurity. He came from a middle-class family and sees what is becoming of the middle-class: the engine of our economy. His goal is a more progressive, humane, fair, just, egalitarian, meritorious system – one that, frankly, used to exist in this country. The following are some of Robert Reich’s thoughts on economics, politics, social justice, the middle class, the rich, and the like.
Many of these Robert Reich quotes came from his laudable and entertaining movie Inequality for All. What a fantastic documentary. Such a mensch. He aims to fight for those who are getting short shrift in a rigged economic and political system. In this, he and some of the enlightened folks on the political Right can make common cause ― the A couple of the quotes come from the movie but are by mega-millionaire and man of conscience, Nick Hanauer and curmudgeonly Senator who opposes big money in politics, Alan Simpson.
“Charles and David Koch should not be blamed for having more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of Americans put together. Nor should they be condemned for their petrochemical empire. As far as I know, they’ve played by the rules and obeyed the laws. They’re also entitled to their own right-wing political views. It’s a free country. But in using their vast wealth to change those rules and laws in order to fit their political views, the Koch brothers are undermining our democracy. That’s a betrayal of the most precious thing Americans share.”
“The question is, When does it become a problem? How much inequality can we tolerate and still have an economy that’s working for everyone and still have a democracy that’s functions?”
“The problem with rising inequality is that a person like me, who earns 1,000 times as much as the typical American, doesn’t buy a thousand pillows a year. …Fewer and fewer people can afford to buy the products we make. …The most pro-business thing you can do is to help middle-class people thrive.” ~ Nick Hanauer
“There is no such thing as a ‘free market’ anywhere; government sets the rules by which the market functions.”
“In 2009, during the depths of the Recession, the seven highest-paid hedge fund managers were taking in more than a billion dollars each. Remember, government sets the rules by which the market functions. We deregulated Wall Street, allowing it to engage in more and more excessive behavior.”
“Big companies are not designed to create good-paying jobs in the United States. Big companies are designed to make profits.”
“The problem was not that Americans spent beyond their means but that their means had not kept up with what the larger economy could and should have been able to provide them. the American economy had been growing briskly, and America’s middle class naturally expected to share in that growth. But it didn’t. A larger and larger portion of the economy’s winnings had gone to people at the top.”
“American democracy used to depend on political parties that more or less represented most of us. Political scientists of the 1950s and 1960s marveled at American pluralism, by which they meant the capacities of parties and other membership groups to reflect the preferences of the vast majority of citizens. Then around a quarter century ago, as income and wealth began concentrating at the top, the Republican and Democratic Parties started to morph into mechanisms for extracting money, mostly from wealthy people.”
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“The great expansion of public institutions in America began in the early years of the twentieth century, when progressive reformers championed the idea that we all benefit from public goods. Excellent schools, roads, parks, playgrounds, and transit systems were meant to knit the new industrial society together, create better citizens, and generate widespread prosperity. Education, for example, was less a personal investment than a public good, improving the entire community and ultimately the nation. This logic was expanded upon in subsequent decades—through the Great Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. The “greatest generation” was bound together by mutual needs and common threats. It invested in strong public institutions as bulwarks against, in turn, mass poverty, fascism, and communism. Yet increasingly over the past three decades, “we’re all in it together” has been replaced by “you’re on your own.”
“Until the 1980s, corporate CEOs were paid, on average, 30 times what their typical worker was paid. Since then, CEO pay has skyrocketed to 280 times the pay of a typical worker; in big companies, to 354 times.”
“General Electric, for example, is creating more jobs abroad than it is in the United States. So, who is taking care of the American worker? As G.E. (and other big companies) and Wall Street and the American wealthy have more and more political power, who is actually working in a way that improves the well-being of the American workforce? The answer is: nobody.”
“A funny thing happened to the First Amendment on its way to the public forum. According to the Supreme Court, money is now speech and corporations are now people. But when real people without money assemble to express their dissatisfaction with the political consequences of this, they’re treated as public nuisances and evicted.”
“During periods when the very rich took home a much smaller proportion of total income—as in the Great Prosperity between 1947 and 1977—the nation as a whole grew faster, and median wages surged. The basic bargain ensured that the pay of American workers coincided with their output. In effect, the vast middle class received an increasing share of the benefits of economic growth. America created that virtuous cycle in which an ever-growing middle class had the ability to consume more goods and services, which created more and better jobs, thereby stoking demand. The rising tide did in fact lift all boats. “When the middle class doesn’t share in the economic gains, you get into this vicious downward cycle.”
“The big economic news isn’t the slow return of jobs. It’s the continuing drop in pay. Most of the jobs we’ve gained since the Great Recession pay less than the jobs lost during it. An analysis from the National Employment Law Project shows that the biggest losses were in jobs paying between $19.05 and $31.40 an hour; the biggest increases have been in jobs paying an average of $9.03 to $12.91 an hour.”
“The idea of a “free market” separate and distinct from government has functioned as a useful cover for those who do not want the market mechanism fully exposed. They have had the most influence over it and would rather keep it that way. The mythology is useful precisely because it hides their power.”
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“The chairman of Merck took home $17.9 million in 2010, as Merck laid off sixteen thousand workers and announced layoffs of twenty-eight thousand more. The CEO of Bank of America raked in $10 million, while the bank announced it was firing thirty thousand employees.”
“I do ask myself whether I’ve been a total failure. I have been saying much of the same thing for 30 years, and many of the same trends have grown worse. Inequality has become worse, and the danger to the economy and democracy have become worse. …I am a cock-eyed optimist. I wouldn’t have spent so much of my adult life beating my head against the wall if I didn’t think that ultimately it would pay off in terms of social change. That’s why I teach.”
“This growing divergence between CEO pay and that of the typical American worker isn’t just wildly unfair. It’s also bad for the economy. It means most workers these days lack the purchasing power to buy what the economy is capable of producing — contributing to the slowest recovery on record. Meanwhile, CEOs and other top executives use their fortunes to fuel speculative booms followed by busts.”
“There is justifiable blame. It’s not that people are rich; it’s that they abuse their wealthy by lobbying for bailouts and subsidies and taxes that are going to entrench their wealth. That’s the reason why the rules have changed so dramatically. Look at history: inequality and tax rates have had an inverse relationship….”
“Is this America [spending a billion dollars on a presidential election in the wake of Citizens United]? Not in my mind. I think it’s absolutely stupefying.” ~ Alan Simpson
“Is this going to be just a partisan fight? Are we just going to have class warfare in this country? No! The rich actually do better with an economy that is growing and when everybody else is doing better. This is not a zero-sum game. History is on the side of positive social change.”
“They call themselves conservatives but that’s not it, either. They don’t want to conserve what we now have. They’d rather take the country backwards – before the 1960s and 1970s, and the Environmental Protection Act, Medicare, and Medicaid; before the New Deal, and its provision for Social Security, unemployment insurance, the forty-hour workweek, and official recognition of trade unions; even before the Progressive Era, and the first national income tax, antitrust laws, and Federal Reserve. They’re not conservatives. They’re regressives. And the America they seek is the one we had in the Gilded Age of the late nineteenth century.”
“[John Maynard] Keynes declared capitalism the best system ever devised to achieve a civilized economic society. But he recognized in it two major faults — ‘its failure to provide for full employment and its arbitrary and inequitable distribution of wealth and incomes.’”
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In the following, excerpted from Dr. Robert Reich’s blog, he points out four lies conservatives make about inequality. This is important because if we are going to make change, we have to see the headwinds that are designed to prevent it, and frankly, much of that comes from the nexus of power where business meets the political Right in the halls of Congress. Much, not all.
Lie number one: The rich and CEOs are America’s job creators. So we dare not tax them. The truth is the middle class and poor are the job-creators through their purchases of goods and services. If they don’t have enough purchasing power because they’re not paid enough, companies won’t create more jobs and our economy won’t grow….
Lie number two: People are paid what they’re worth in the market. So we shouldn’t tamper with pay. The facts contradict this. CEOs who got 30 times the pay of typical workers 40 years ago now get 300 times their pay not because they’ve done such a great job but because they control their compensation committees and their stock options have ballooned….
Lie number three: Anyone can make it in America with enough guts, gumption and intelligence. So we don’t need to do anything for poor and lower-middle class kids. The truth is we do less than nothing for poor and lower-middle class kids. Their schools don’t have enough teachers or staff, their textbooks are outdated, they lack science labs, their school buildings are falling apart….
Lie number four: Increasing the minimum wage will result in fewer jobs. So we shouldn’t raise it. In fact, studies show that increases in the minimum wage put more money in the pockets of people who will spend it — resulting in more jobs and counteracting any negative employment effects of an increase in the minimum.
View more quotes by Robert Reich and other high-minded fiscal liberals here in the Wisdom Archive.