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Robert Reich
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Robert Reich is the nation's 22nd Secretary of Labor and a professor at the University of California at Berkeley. His film Inequality for All is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and Netflix. His homepage is robertreich.org.

Entries by Robert Reich

State of Disaster

(215) Comments | Posted May 31, 2015 | 9:26 PM

As extreme weather marked by tornadoes and flooding continues to sweep across Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott has requested -- and President Obama has granted -- federal help.

I don't begrudge Texas billions of dollars in disaster relief. After all, we're all part of America. When some of us are...

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10 Ways to Make the Economy Work for the Many, Not the Few: #7, Strengthen Unions and Preempt State 'Right-to-Work' Laws

(294) Comments | Posted May 28, 2015 | 11:23 AM


One big reason America was far more equal in the 1950s and 1960s than now is unions were stronger then. That gave workers bargaining power to get a fair share of the economy's gains -- and unions helped improve wages and working conditions for everyone.

But as union membership has weakened -- from more than a third of all private-sector workers belonging unions in the 1950s to fewer than 7 percent today -- the bargaining power of average workers has all but disappeared.

In fact, the decline of the American middle class mirrors almost exactly the decline of American labor union membership.

So how do we strengthen unions?

First, make it easier to form a union, with a simple majority of workers voting up or down.

Right now, long delays and procedural hurdles give big employers plenty of time to whip up campaigns against unions, even threatening they'll close down and move somewhere else if a union is voted in.

Second, build in real penalties on companies that violate labor laws by firing workers who try to organize a union or intimidating others.

These moves are illegal, but nowadays the worst that can happen is employers get slapped on the wrist. If found guilty they have to repay lost wages to the workers they fire. Some employers treat this as a cost of doing business. That must be stopped. Penalties should be large enough to stop this illegality.

Finally - this one has been in the news lately, and if you only remember one thing, remember this: We must enact a federal law that pre-empts so-called state "right-to-work" laws.

Don't be fooled by the "right to work" name. These laws allow workers to get all the benefits of having a union without paying union dues. It's a back door destroying unions. If no one pays dues, unions have no way to provide any union benefits. And that means lower wages.

In fact, wages in right-to-work states are lower on average than wages in non-right-to-work states, by an average of about $1500 a year. Workers in right-to-work states are also less likely to have employer-sponsored health insurance and pension coverage.

When unions are weakened by right-to-work laws, all of a state's workers are hurt.

American workers need a union to bargain on their behalf. Low-wage workers in big-box retail stores and fast-food chains need a union even more.

If we want average Americans to get a fair share of the gains from economic growth, they need to be able to unionize.

ROBERT B. REICH's film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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Ten Ideas to Save the Economy #6: End Corporate Welfare Now

(172) Comments | Posted May 26, 2015 | 11:18 AM


Corporations aren't people, despite what the Supreme Court says, and they don't need or deserve handouts.

When corporations get special handouts from the government -- subsidies and tax breaks -- it costs you. It means you have to pay more in taxes to make up for these hidden expenses. And government has less money for good schools and roads, Medicare and national defense, and everything else you need.

You might call these special corporate handouts "corporate welfare," but at least welfare goes to real people in need. In the big picture, corporate handouts are costing tens of billions of dollars a year. Some estimates put it over $100 billion -- which means it's costing you money that would otherwise go to better schools or roads, or lower taxes.

Conservatives have made a game of obscuring where federal spending actually goes. In reality, only about 12 percent of federal spending goes to individuals and families, most in dire need. An increasing portion goes to corporate welfare.

Other examples: The oil, gas, and coal industries get billions in their own special tax breaks. Big Agribusiness gets farm subsides. Big Pharma gets their own subsidy in the form of a ban on government using its bargaining power under Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. And hedge-fund and private-equity managers get a special tax loophole that treats their income as capital gains, at a lower tax rate than ordinary income.

The real issue isn't the government's size. It's whom government is for. Much of government is no longer working for the vast majority it's intended to serve. If government were responding to the public's interest instead of the moneyed interests, it would be providing more support for communities, families, and individuals who need it the most.

There's no reason any corporations should be on the dole, or that your hard-earned dollars should be going to them for no reason but their political clout.

So we have to demand an end to corporate welfare. No more handouts to particular corporations and industries simply because they're big enough and powerful enough to get them. No more specialized tax breaks. No more exemptions or special treatment. No more crony capitalism.

Want to end corporate welfare? Watch my latest video now, and share it with your friends.

ROBERT B. REICH's film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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What Ever Happened to Antitrust?

(52) Comments | Posted May 25, 2015 | 10:47 AM

Last week's settlement between the Justice Department and five giant banks reveals the appalling weakness of modern antitrust.

The banks had engaged in the biggest price-fixing conspiracy in modern history. Their self-described "cartel" used an exclusive electronic chat room and coded language to manipulate the $5.3 trillion-a-day currency exchange...

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

(80) Comments | Posted May 21, 2015 | 1:23 PM


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.

ROBERT B. REICH's film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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

(79) Comments | Posted May 18, 2015 | 8:07 PM


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.

ROBERT B. REICH's film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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Making the Economy Work for the Many, Not the Few -- Step 3: Expand Social Security

(141) Comments | Posted May 14, 2015 | 2:14 PM

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.

ROBERT B. REICH's film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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Making the Economy Work for the Many, Not the Few -- Step 2: Make Work Family Friendly

(28) Comments | Posted May 8, 2015 | 1:51 PM

No one should have to choose between providing for your family and being a good parent. Yet "family-friendly" work is still a pipe dream.


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.

ROBERT B. REICH's film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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Making the Economy Work for the Many, Not the Few -- Step 1: Raise the Minimum Wage

(192) Comments | Posted May 7, 2015 | 1:28 PM

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...

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What Will Happen to American Jobs, Incomes, and Wealth a Decade From Now?

(168) Comments | Posted May 6, 2015 | 6:14 PM

What will happen to American jobs, incomes, and wealth a decade from now?

Predictions are hazardous but survivable. In 1991, in my book The Work of Nations, I separated almost all work into three categories, and then predicted what would happen to each of them.

The first category I called...

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Trans-Pacific Trickle-Down Economics

(88) Comments | Posted May 3, 2015 | 3:54 PM

Have we learned nothing from thirty years of failed trickle-down economics?

By now we should know that when big corporations, Wall Street, and the wealthy get special goodies, the rest of us get shafted.

The Reagan and George W. Bush tax cuts of 1981, 2001, and 2003, respectively, were sold...

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Why So Many Americans Feel So Powerless

(327) Comments | Posted April 27, 2015 | 8:10 AM

A security guard recently told me he didn't know how much he'd be earning from week to week because his firm kept changing his schedule and his pay. "They just don't care," he said.

A traveler I met in the Dallas Fort-Worth Airport last week said she'd been there...

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How the New Flexible Economy Is Making Workers' Lives Hell

(16) Comments | Posted April 20, 2015 | 1:53 PM

These days it's not unusual for someone on the way to work to receive a text message from her employer saying she's not needed right then.

Although she's already found someone to pick up her kid from school and arranged for childcare, the work is no longer available and...

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The Defining Moment, and Hillary Rodham Clinton

(252) Comments | Posted April 10, 2015 | 2:53 PM

It's a paradox.

Almost all the economic gains are still going to the top, leaving America's vast middle class with stagnant wages and little or no job security. Two-thirds of Americans are working paycheck to paycheck.

Meanwhile, big money is taking over our democracy....

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

(106) Comments | Posted April 6, 2015 | 6:15 PM

Not long ago I was asked to speak to a religious congregation about widening inequality. Shortly before I began, the head of the congregation asked that I not advocate raising taxes on the wealthy.

He said he didn't want to antagonize certain wealthy congregants on whose generosity the congregation depended....

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A ascensão dos pobres que trabalham e dos ricos que não trabalham

(0) Comments | Posted April 5, 2015 | 11:20 AM

Muita gente acredita que os pobres merecem ser pobres porque são preguiçosos. Como disse o presidente da Câmara americana, John Boehner, os pobres pensam algo como: "Não preciso trabalhar, na realidade. Na verdade não quero fazer isso. Acho que prefiro ficar aqui sem fazer nada."

Na realidade, uma...

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

(439) Comments | Posted March 30, 2015 | 10:03 PM

Many believe that poor people deserve to be poor because they're lazy. As Speaker John Boehner has said, the poor have a notion that "I really don't have to work. I don't really want to do this. I think I'd rather just sit around."

In reality, a large and growing...

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Why College Isn't (And Shouldn't Have to Be) For Everyone

(105) Comments | Posted March 22, 2015 | 8:53 PM

I know a high school senior who's so worried about whether she'll be accepted at the college of her choice she can't sleep.

The parent of another senior tells me he stands at the mailbox for an hour every day waiting for a hoped-for acceptance letter to arrive.

Parents are...

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O 'iTudo' e o imperativo da redistribuição

(0) Comments | Posted March 20, 2015 | 4:43 PM

Hoje é possível vender um novo produto para centenas de milhões de pessoas sem precisar de muitos trabalhadores para produzi-lo ou distribuí-lo.

No seu auge, em 1988, a Kodak, empresa americana icônica da fotografia, tinha 145 000 funcionários . Em 2012, a Kodak foi à falência.

No mesmo...

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The "iEverything" and the Redistributional Imperative

(127) Comments | Posted March 16, 2015 | 4:32 PM

It's now possible to sell a new product to hundreds of millions of people without needing many, if any, workers to produce or distribute it.

At its prime in 1988, Kodak, the iconic American photography company, had 145,000 employees. In 2012, Kodak filed for bankruptcy.

The same year Kodak...

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