Robert Reich

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ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock" and “The Work of Nations.“ His latest, "Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, “Inequality for All,” is now available on Netflix, iTunes, DVD, and On Demand.
Updated: 39 min 14 sec ago

Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #5: How to Reinvent...

Thu, 05/21/2015 - 09:30


Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #5: How to Reinvent Education

Senator Bernie Sanders is making waves with a big idea to reinvent education: Making public colleges and universities tuition-free.

I couldn’t agree more. Higher education isn’t just a personal investment. It’s a public good that pays off in a more competitive workforce and better-informed and engaged citizens. Every year, we spend nearly $100 billion on corporate welfare, and more than $500 billion on defense spending. Surely ensuring the next generation can compete in the global economy is at least as important as subsidies for big business and military adventures around the globe.

In fact, I think we can and must go further — not just making public higher education tuition-free, but reinventing education in America as we know it. (That’s the subject of this latest video in my partnership with MoveOn, “The Big Picture: Ten Ideas to Save the Economy.” Please take a moment to watch now.)

In the big picture, much of our education system — from the bells that ring to separate classes to memorization drills — was built to mirror the assembly lines that powered the American economy for the last century. As educators know, what we need today is a system of education that cultivates the critical thinking skills necessary for the economy of tomorrow.

We have to reinvent education because it’s not working for too many of our kids – who are either dropping out of high school because they aren’t engaged, or not getting the skills they need, or paying a fortune for college and ending up with crushing student debt.

How do we get there?

First, stop the wall-to-wall testing that’s destroying the love of teaching and learning. Let’s get back to a curriculum that builds curiosity, problem solving, teamwork and perseverance, and away from teaching to the test. Give teachers space to teach, and give students freedom to learn. Limit classrooms to 20 children so teachers can give students the individual attention they need.

Increase federal funding for education. The majority of U.S. public school students today live in poverty. That’s a staggering figure. Our schools and educators aren’t equipped to deal with this harsh reality but we know ways to change that. High-quality early childhood education, for starters. Community schools to serve the whole child, with health services, counselors, and after school activities.

Offer high school seniors the option of a year of technical education, followed by two years of free technical education at a community college. The route into the middle class shouldn’t always require a four-year college degree. America needs technicians who can install, service, repair, and upgrade complex equipment in offices, laboratories, hospitals, and factories.

And Senator Sanders has proposed, make public higher education free — from community college to state universities — completely free, as it was in many states in the 1950s and 1960s. Higher education isn’t just a personal investment. It’s a public good that pays off in a more competitive workforce and better-informed and engaged citizens.

And critically, we must increase pay and improve conditions for the men and women who power our schools—teachers and school staff who educate our kids, clean our classrooms, and keep our schools safe.

The law of supply and demand isn’t repealed at the schoolhouse door. We’re paying investment bankers hundreds of thousands if not millions of dollars a year to make money for Wall Street. We ought to be paying educators and staff a decent wage to develop and guide the nation’s human capital – an investment that would benefit everyone.

By reinventing education in these sensible ways, we all gain.

Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #4: Bust Up Wall Street When...

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 15:53


Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #4: Bust Up Wall Street

When Americans think of how the economic rules are stacked against them, they naturally think of Wall Street. 

When the Wall Street bubble burst in 2008 because of excessive risk-taking, millions of working Americans lost their jobs, health insurance, savings, and homes.

But The Street is back to many of its old tricks. And its lobbyists are busily rolling back the Dodd-Frank Act, intended to prevent another crash.

The biggest Wall Street banks are also much larger. In 1990, the five biggest banks had 10 percent of all of the nation’s banking assets. Now, they have 44 percent – more than they had at the time of the 2008 crash.

They have a virtual lock on taking companies public, play key roles pricing commodities, are involved in all major U.S. mergers and acquisitions and many overseas, and responsible for most of the trading in derivatives and other complex financial instruments.  

And as they’ve gained dominance over the financial sector, they’ve become more politically potent. They’re major sources of campaign funds for both Republicans and Democrats.

Wall Street banks supply personnel for key economic posts in Republican and Democratic administrations, and lucrative employment to economic officials when they leave Washington.

It’s a vicious cycle. The bigger they get, the more likely it is that government will bail them out if they get into trouble again. This, in turn, confers on them an ever-larger competitive advantage over smaller, community-minded banks that don’t have the implied guarantee – which gives the biggest banks even more economic and political power.

What should be done?

First, resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act that used to separate investment from commercial banking.

Second, put a small sales tax on every financial transaction. This would discourage speculation and slow down the casino. Not incidentally, such a tax could generate billions of dollars a year for, say, better schools.

But the most important thing we should do is bust up the big banks. Any bank that’s too big to fail is too big, period.

Antitrust law should be used the way it was against the big oil trusts and the telephone monopoly. The idea was to prevent too much economic and political power from concentrating in too few hands. And that’s precisely the problem with Wall Street.

The only sure way to stop excessive risk-taking on Wall Street so you don’t risk losing your job or your savings or your home, is to put an end to the excessive economic and political power of Wall Street.

It’s time to bust up the big banks.

The Revolt of Small Business Republicans

Mon, 05/18/2015 - 12:24
Can it be that America’s small businesses are finally waking up to the fact they’re being...

Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #3: Expand Social SecurityAmerica...

Thu, 05/14/2015 - 10:41


Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #3: Expand Social Security

America is on the cusp of a retirement crisis. Millions of Americans are already in danger of not being able to maintain their standard of living in retirement, and the problem is getting worse.

You hear a lot about how corporations are struggling to make good on their pension promises, and how Social Security won’t be there for you in retirement.

Baloney on both counts.

Corporations are awash in money, and they could afford to provide their hourly workers with pensions when they retire. Years ago, they routinely provided “defined benefit” pensions – a fixed amount every month after retirement.

Nowadays most workers are lucky if their company matches what they’re able to put away. The typical firm does no more than offer a 401-K plan that depends entirely on worker savings.

But many workers get such low pay during their working lives that they haven’t been able to save for retirement. 

At the same time, the cost of pharmaceuticals keeps rising, taking an ever-bigger bite out of retiree incomes.

That means Social Security is more important than ever. Today, two-thirds of seniors derive over half of their income from Social Security, and one-third of seniors rely on it for at least 90% of their income. Without it, the poverty rate of our seniors would be 45% instead of 10%. 

Social Security will be there for you in your retirement. The problem is it won’t pay you enough.

That’s why it’s important to expand Social Security – not cut Social Security benefits. 

How?

We can afford to increase Social Security benefits, as well as help ensure the solvency of Social Security, by eliminating the cap on income subject to Social Security taxes.

Unlike the Medicare payroll tax that everyone pays as a small portion of their total incomes, the Social Security payroll tax is capped. Any income over $118,500 this year is exempt from it. Which means a billionaire pays the same Social Security payroll tax as someone earning $118,500.

This isn’t fair and it’s not sensible. Billionaires and millionaires should pay just like everyone else. 

Scrap the cap, and not only is Social Security more secure for you and your kids, but it will be able to pay out even more benefits in your retirement.

America’s seniors, who paid in to Social Security over their lifetimes, deserve enough retirement income to live on.

If wealthy Americans pay their fair share, we can make sure tomorrow’s seniors get the Social Security they truly need.

Nike, Obama, and the Fiasco of the Trans Pacific Partnership

Fri, 05/08/2015 - 14:24
On Friday, President Obama chose Nike headquarters in Oregon to deliver a defense of his proposed...

STEP #2: MAKE WORK FAMILY FRIENDLYNo one should have to choose...

Fri, 05/08/2015 - 09:33


STEP #2: MAKE WORK FAMILY FRIENDLY

No one should have to choose between providing for your family and being a good parent. Yet “family-friendly” work is still a pipedream.

Today most parents are also wage earners, whether in a two-parent or single-parent household. Politicians talk a lot about the importance of family, but must do a better job delivering.

Specifically:

– Require that women receive equal pay for equal work.

– Require employers provide predictable hours so workers can plan to be home when their family needs them.

– Provide universal childcare – pre-school and after-school – financed by employers and taxpayers.

– Require that employers offer paid family and medical leave.   

The richest nation in the world should enable its workers to be good parents. Family-friendly work isn’t a luxury. People who work hard deserve to make more than a decent living. They and their families deserve a decent life.

Why Nike Is the Problem, Not the Solution

Thu, 05/07/2015 - 11:07
THURSDAY, MAY 7, 2015President Obama gave a speech Friday promoting the Trans-Pacific Partnership....

MAKING THE ECONONY WORK FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW. STEP #1:...

Thu, 05/07/2015 - 09:39


MAKING THE ECONONY WORK FOR THE MANY, NOT THE FEW. STEP #1: RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE

A basic moral principle that most Americans agree on is no one who works full time should be in poverty, nor should their family.

Yet over time we’ve seen significant growth in the “working poor” – people working full time, sometimes even 60 or more hours each week, but at such low wages that they remain impoverished.

What to do?

One step is to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This is winnable. A powerful movement is fighting for $15 an hour and they’re winning new laws in cities and states, and forcing companies to raise wages.

If the minimum wage in 1968 had simply kept up with inflation it would be more than $10 today.  If it also kept up with the added productivity of American workers since then, it would be more than $21 an hour.  

Some opponents say minimum wage workers are teenagers seeking some extra pocket money.

Wrong. Half are 35 or older, and many are key breadwinners for their families.

And don’t believe scaremongers who say a $15 minimum will cause employers to cut employment.

More money in people’s pockets means more demand for goods and services, which means more jobs not fewer jobs.

Studies also show that when the minimum is raised more people are brought into the pool of potential employees, giving employers more choice of whom to hire. This reduces turnover and helps employers save money.

Finally, employers who don’t pay enough to lift their employees out of poverty are indirectly subsidized by the rest of us – who are paying billions each year in food stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and welfare, to make up the difference.

The minimum wage should be raised to $15 an hour. It’s the least that a decent society should require.

Trans Pacific Trickle-Down Economics

Sat, 05/02/2015 - 09:42
Have we learned nothing from thirty years of failed trickle-down economics?By now we should know...

YOU MUST TAKE ACTION NOWThe heinous Trans Pacific Partnership is...

Sat, 05/02/2015 - 04:58


YOU MUST TAKE ACTION NOW

The heinous Trans Pacific Partnership is now moving in Congress. It’s not really about trade – most tariffs are now low – but about making the world safer for global corporations. It allows big global corporations to sue countries for health, safety, environmental, and labor protections that reduce corporate profits. Its so-called labor and environmental protections are unenforceable. And rather than strengthen America’s hand against China (as its proponents claim), it only strengthens the hands of giant American-based corporations – whose loyalty is to their shareholders rather than to the United States. (These corporations will do whatever China wants if it helps their bottom lines.)

It’s a bad deal for Americans. Please call your senators and your representative and tell them you don’t want the Trans Pacific Partnership, and you don’t want “fast-track” that allows it to speed through Congress without debate or amendment. 

The Political Roots of Widening Inequality

Thu, 04/30/2015 - 23:13
For the past quarter-century I’ve offered in articles, books, and lectures an explanation for why...

Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless

Sun, 04/26/2015 - 14:49
A security guard recently told me he didn’t know how much he’d be earning from week to week because...

How the New Flexible Economy is Making Workers’ Lives Hell

Mon, 04/20/2015 - 10:41
These days it’s not unusual for someone on the way to work to receive a text message from her...

The Defining Moment, and Hillary Rodham Clinton

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 11:50
It’s a paradox. Almost all the economic gains are still going to the top, leaving America’s vast...

The Big Chill: How Big Money Is Buying Off Criticism of Big Money

Mon, 04/06/2015 - 13:33
Not long ago I was asked to speak to a religious congregation about widening inequality. Shortly...

The Rise of the Working Poor and the Non-Working Rich

Mon, 03/30/2015 - 15:51
Many believe that poor people deserve to be poor because they’re lazy. As Speaker John Boehner has...