THE INEQUALITY of ROBERT REICH
by Peter Bearse
Reich’s new, highly publicized movie, Inequality for All, both leads and misleads. It leads in building on Occupy Wall Street’s lead in pointing to, underlining, documenting and illustrating the importance and implications of the huge growth of inequalities of income and wealth here in the U.S. -- to the point that the latter now place us #1 along the inequality measure scales among advanced nations.
It misleads to the extent it leaves us powerless in our ability to address the problems that Reich identified. Ironically, Reich is part of the problem rather than a source of the solution? Why? -- Because there’s too much of Reich in his movie. He takes up too much time as the movie’s main character, backed by cheering sections of his admiring students. This is time that could and should have been devoted to highlighting the importance of US, “We the People.” We are seeking solutions to the issues raised by the great and rapidly increasing inequality gaps that Reich has so well revealed. We are a nation that prides itself on the equality of people under the law in a democratic republic.
Another irony is that Reich appears as an elitist even though his movie helps to document the failure of our American elite and the rise of a new plutocracy. To his credit as a recognized member of a new, world-wide elite meritocracy, Reich has unmistakably brought to our attention that: “SCOTUS [the Supreme Court of the U.S.] is inviting an American oligarchy…(that we are) slouching toward…” Another reviewer observed that his movie “lacks the alarmist self-importance of another elitist, Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth. I disagree. There’s enough of both self importance and alarmism but too little of both diagnosis and prescription.
Unfortunately, the movie falls short of Reich’s own prior book1 as well as that of Hedrick Smith2 in both documenting and spelling out the demise of the American middle class and what needs to be done to revive it. Reich is often billed as an economist but he is not; he is a lawyer. His book showed how the appropriation of most of the productivity gains since 1973 by the 1-5%ers helps to explain the diminishing purchasing power of the middle class, which thereby became severely weakened as a driver of economic recovery. The movie clearly showed the growing gap between growth in real income and productivity.
As a politically activist lawyer, however, Reich failed to sufficiently diagnose and emphasize the fundamental political-legal, indeed Constitutional, issue raised by the movie -- that high and growing economic inequality spells high and growing political inequality. Contrary to the promises of our American Revolution and Constitution, citizens are no longer equal politically or under the law. “One man, one vote” no longer holds true. According to SCOTUS, “money is speech”. On average, it takes $8 to buy one vote. This figure doesn’t begin to include the cost of buying one congressional vote. There are dozens of lobbyists per Member of Congress. For decades, the cost index of federal elections has far exceeded the CPI (Consumer Price Index).
For decades, politics has steadily become more and more like big business, dominated by the “Pro’s”, big-dollar TV advertising, polling, focus groups, and big-money operators “investing” in major political races. As a result, we’ve seen developing, like some gargantuan, spreading slime-mold, a dependence of federal politics upon big, self-interested money. The political process that should be ours is not. It is a vicious cycle that corrupts and threatens to destroy our democratic republic: Big money buys political access for lobbyists. Lobbyists influence the making of laws that favor the 1%. The 1%ers investment in politics pays off, so more big money goes to buy more political access, favors and subsidies. Case closed; the cycle is complete, for “them”. What about US -- 99% of “We the People”? We continue to work harder for less -- if we have a job. Our contributions of time and money to politics continue to go down. The monied “powers that be” continue to get their way and hold sway.
The main question left unaddressed and unanswered by the movie is: How do we recover or create the political equality guaranteed to us but lost to us?[Don’t be naïve, we never had it through institutionalized political processes.]3 Start with context -- the factors in our community, workaday and economic surroundings that limit our ability to influence even the laws and regulations that obviously affect our lives. The previous paragraph identified many of them, but the list is longer. Reich’s movie doesn’t help us to either identify others or show us how to push them back so we’d at least gain some political breathing room.
It’s even tougher for most of us to look into the mirror to see that “limits are what we are inside of.”4 Personal pressures push politics aside while media treat politics as “dirty” or as a game for someone else -- “them,” not “us”. Thus, we become part of another vicious cycle. If we see politics as dirty or beneath us, we won’t get involved with it. Given our absence, politics comes to be dominated by the low or the “dirty”. Thus, it’s going to take at least one more major crisis before people wake up and realize that “POLITICS [not toys] ARE US.”
Aren’t you tired of media that provide sweepingly negative diagnostics of what’s wrong with our country, then fail to provide prescriptions sufficient to make things better? I am; but then I thought: To the extent that we’re part of the problem -- with a freeloader’s attitude: “Let George (or anyone else) do it”-- there’ll be no meaningful change until we become part of the solution. Thus, in my set of three books on the theme of “We the People: A Conservative Populism”,5 I’ve taken pains to lay out a great number and variety of ways anybody can make a difference, politically, even with little time or money to contribute. The latest initiative -- to advance the cause of a Peoples’ Congress -- doesn’t lack a strategy [See Chapter 4 of the 3rd book in the series], but the strategy is flexible. It not only allows but calls upon citizens to be involved in a process that would empower them, politically, no matter what are the issues of their most heartfelt concern.
If another crisis is what it take to wake us up, it may be too late to save our republic. Look at how the German middle class reacted to the Depression. Many of the current generation of political activists or reformers are still paying the campaign finance reform [CFR] game. But CFR has failed. We’ll need a Constitutional Convention to adopt at least two Constitutional Amendments if CFR is ever to have a chance to succeed. We also need to:
Spread the word about what American citizenship really means. Citizenship is far more than just a “right.” It also spells real responsibility -- not only to vote but to be involved in political processes that generate what and who we have to vote for. Aristotle was right: “A citizen is one who participates in power.” Unfortunately, most of us do not, but we must, if our republic is to survive and prosper, not go the way of the Weimar [German] Republic.
During this critical congressional election year, look for and support only those candidates who seek to empower “We the People” more than themselves.
Energize and mobilize everyone you know -- neighbors, friends, relatives, colleagues, associates, et al. -- to join a movement to create a Peoples’ Congress. See www.politicalcommunity.us or www.peoplescongress.us, or write to me, firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
After all, the Congress is the only leg of the 3-legged stool of our federal system that is commissioned to work with, by and for “We the People.” If we let this year go by without getting involved, politically, and working to achieve something much more than the typical congressional election result -- a game of musical chairs yielding no more than a change of names on congressional cards and desks -- then all bets may be off for the ability of US, “We the People,” to influence the future of ourselves, our children and our grandchildren for the better.
PETER BEARSE, Ph.D., Founder of peoplescongress.US
April 6, 2014
1 Reich, Robert (2012), BEYOND OUTRAGE
2 Smith, Hedrick (2013), WHO STOLE the AMERICAN DREAM?
3 See Howard Zinn’s PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE U.S.
4 Olson, Charles (1960), THE MAXIMUS POEMS.
5 The 1st (2004) book has the theme as title. The 2nd (2012) is titled “A New American [R]evolution: How “We the People” can “take back” our government.” The 3rd (2013) is: “1% + 99% = 100%: How “We the People” can occupy politics, change Congress and renew the American Dream.” All can be examined via Amazon.com at no cost.