Vintage Books, 2012
As with the Thomas Frank book below, Occasionally we will be posting book recommendations that are designed to provoke debate, that are related to the political future(s) of the USA, and that may show why progressives are angry at the dysfunction in Washington as—to be sure—conservatives are as well. We welcome enlightened conservative readers’ recommendations of books that have insights.
Robert Reich, Professor of public policy at the University of California Berkeley Reich as many will know was a Brandeis professor and is now at U. Cal. Berkeley as a professor of public policy. He was Pres. Clinton’s Secretary of Labor and has advised President Obama. He has appeared on public TV and radio—notably “Marketplace”– and honored for his progressive, liberal, but highly informed writing. He is no radical.
We are posting some of Reich’s introductory big ideas about what is wrong with the American economy in outline form. This will be followed by discussions of Reich and Frank (see post below) and more detail on the very important things they have to say. While Frank offers an analysis of WHY the system has been rigged against the middle, working, and poor “classes,” especially since the Reagan 1980s, Reich talks more about the HOW of fixing what’s broken in this system in spite of his forceful title. But the two books complement each other nicely and Reich’s has the advantage of having been published 3 years later (2012).
As many of the commentators on this blog to date have been conservative, it is important to note that Thinking conservatives will disagree with much that is in the book, but that they are important reading about what “ the opposition” is thinking. Much they same as we would want to read enlightened conservative material by writers such as David Brooks, Thomas Sowell, and Charles Krauthamer.
Here are the first set of a series of excerpts we will be quoting from, from this and other Reich books. Readers are urged to pause and simply consider the statements on their merits, without pigeonholing Reich into pre-formed mental images of “leftist” or “American socialist/”. After all, WALL STREET JOURNAL, has named him one of the ten most influential business thought leaders.
- …Increasingly, the rewards have gone to the top, while risks have been borne by middle and lower income people. At the same time, the very wealthy are getting a greater share of total income than they did at any time in the last eight years. Their tax rates are lower than they’ve been in a generation. Republicans want us to believe that the central issue is the size of government, but the real issue is whom government is for. Public institutions are deteriorating. We’re saddled  with the most anemic recovery from the worst economy since World War II, while the basic bargain lining pay to productivity comes apart. (p.4)
- The Congressional Budget Office has issued a report on the widening disparities. The issue has become front page news. For the first time since the 1930s, a broad cross section of the American public is talking about the concentration of wealth and income at the top. (p.5)
- As recently as a decade ago, the prevailing view was also that great wealth trickled downward, that the rich made investment in jobs and growth that benefited all of us. So even if we doubted that we ourselves would be wealthy, we felt we’d still benefit from the fortunes made by a few. But that view too has lost its sheen. Americans see that nothing has trickled down. The rich have become far richer over the last 3 decades, but the rest of us haven’t benefitted. In fact median incomes are dropping. (p. 7)
- …The American economy is in trouble because so much wealth and income have been going to the top that the rest of us no longer have the purchasing power to keep the economy going… [italics mine] (p. 8)
- Some apologists for this extraordinary accumulation of income and wealth have been going to the top attribute it to “risk taking” by courageous entrepreneurs… The president of the Chamber of Commerce, explains that this economy is about risk. “If you don’t take risk, you can’t have success.” But in fact, the higher you go in today’s economy, the easier it is to make a pile of money without taking any personal financial risk. The lower you go, the bigger the risks and the smaller the rewards. (pp. 8-9)
- In 2012, the Wall Street Journal looked at the pay of executives at twenty one of the largest companies that had recently gone through bankruptcy. The median income of those CEOs was $8.7 million, not much less than the $9.1 median compensation of all CEO’s of big companies. The reason CEO’s get giant pay packages for lousy performance is that the stack their boards of directors’ compensation committee’s with cronies who make sure they do. (p.11)
To be continued! Your thoughts??