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Robert Reich
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

Entries by Robert Reich

Why the Sharing Economy Is Harming Workers -- and What Must Be Done

(21) Comments | Posted November 28, 2015 | 12:02 PM

In this holiday season it's especially appropriate to acknowledge how many Americans don't have steady work.

The so-called "share economy" includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.

It's estimated that in five years over 40 percent of the American labor force will be in such uncertain work; in a decade, most of us.

Already two-thirds of American workers are living paycheck to paycheck.

This trend shifts all economic risks onto workers. A downturn in demand, or sudden change in consumer needs, or a personal injury or sickness, can make it impossible to pay the bills.

It eliminates labor protections such as the minimum wage, worker safety, family and medical leave, and overtime.

And it ends employer-financed insurance -- Social Security, workers' compensation, unemployment benefits, and employer-provided health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.

No wonder, according to polls, almost a quarter of American workers worry they won't be earning enough in the future. That's up from 15 percent a decade ago.

Such uncertainty can be hard on families, too. Children of parents working unpredictable schedules or outside standard daytime working hours are likely to have lower cognitive skills and more behavioral problems, according to new research.

What to do?

Courts are overflowing with lawsuits over whether companies have misclassified "employees" as "independent contractors," resulting in a profusion of criteria and definitions.

We should aim instead for simplicity: Whoever pays more than half of someone's income, or provides more than half their working hours should be responsible for all the labor protections and insurance an employee is entitled to.

In addition, to restore some certainty to people's lives, we need to move away from unemployment insurance and toward income insurance.

Say, for example, your monthly income dips more than 50 percent below the average monthly income you've received from all the jobs you've taken over the preceding five years. With income insurance, you'd automatically receive half the difference for up to a year.

It's possible to have a flexible economy and also provide workers some minimal level of security.

A decent society requires no less.

ROBERT B. REICH's new book, "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few," will be out September 29. His film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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Five Prerequisites for War Against ISIS

(149) Comments | Posted November 24, 2015 | 11:45 AM

We appear to be moving ever closer toward a world war against the Islamic State.

No sane person welcomes war. Yet if we do go to war against ISIS we must keep a watchful eye on 5 things:

1. The burden of fighting the war must be widely shared among...

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The Perils of Circus Politics

(50) Comments | Posted November 17, 2015 | 2:50 PM

The next president of the United States will confront a virulent jihadist threat, mounting effects of climate change, and an economy becoming ever more unequal.

We're going to need an especially wise and able leader.

Yet our process for choosing that person is a circus, and several leading candidates are...

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What I Learned on My Red State Book Tour

(21) Comments | Posted November 8, 2015 | 9:10 PM

I've just returned from three weeks in "red" America.

It was ostensibly a book tour, but I wanted to talk with conservative Republicans and Tea Partiers.

I intended to put into practice what I tell my students -- that the best way to learn is to talk with people who...

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The Rigging of the American Market

(215) Comments | Posted November 1, 2015 | 7:25 PM

Much of the national debate about widening inequality focuses on whether and how much to tax the rich and redistribute their income downward.

But this debate ignores the upward redistributions going on every day, from the rest of us to the rich. These redistributions are hidden inside the market.


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On Leaders and Demagogues

(78) Comments | Posted October 26, 2015 | 9:25 AM

Among the current crop of candidates for president of the United States, who exhibits leadership and who doesn't?

Leadership isn't just the ability to attract followers. Otherwise some of the worst tyrants in history would be considered great leaders. They weren't leaders; they were demagogues. There's a difference.

A leader...

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The 4 Big Lies About Immigrants -- and the Truth

(358) Comments | Posted October 21, 2015 | 9:26 AM

Donald Trump has opened the floodgates to lies about immigration. Here are the myths, and the facts.

MYTH: Immigrants take away American jobs.

Wrong. Immigrants add to economic demand, and thereby push firms to create more jobs.

MYTH: We don't need any more immigrants.

Baloney. The U.S. population is aging. Twenty-five years ago, each retiree in America was matched by 5 workers. Now for each retiree there are only 3 workers. Without more immigration, in 15 years the ratio will fall to 2 workers for every retiree, not nearly enough to sustain our retiree population.

MYTH: Immigrants are a drain on public budgets.

Bull. Immigrants pay taxes! The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released a report this year showing undocumented immigrants paid $11.8 billion in state and local taxes in 2012 and their combined nationwide state and local tax contributions would increase by $2.2 billion under comprehensive immigration reform.

MYTH: Legal and illegal immigration is increasing.

Wrong again. The net rate of illegal immigration into the U.S. is less than zero. The number of undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. has declined from 12.2 million in 2007 to 11.3 million now, according to Pew Research Center.

Don't listen to the demagogues who want to blame the economic problems of the middle class and poor on new immigrants, whether here legally or illegally. The real problem is the economic game is rigged in favor of a handful at the top, who are doing the rigging.

We need to pass comprehensive immigration reform, giving those who are undocumented a path to citizenship.

Scapegoating them and other immigrants is shameful.

And it's just plain wrong.

ROBERT B. REICH's new book, "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few," will be out September 29. His film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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The Morality of a $15 Minimum

(250) Comments | Posted October 19, 2015 | 3:01 PM

Have you noticed how often conservatives who disagree with a policy proposal call it a "job killer?"

They're especially incensed about proposals to raise the federal minimum wage. They claim it will force employers to lay off workers worth hiring at the current federal minimum of $7.25 an hour but...

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Austerity 101: The Three Reasons Republican Deficit Hawks Are Wrong

(168) Comments | Posted October 15, 2015 | 3:42 PM

Congress is heading into another big brawl over the federal budget deficit, the national debt, and the debt ceiling.

Republicans are already talking about holding Social Security and Medicare "hostage" during negotiations -- hell-bent on getting cuts in exchange for a debt limit hike.

Days ago, U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew asked whether our nation would "muster the political will to avoid the self-inflicted wounds that come from a political stalemate."

It's a fair question. And there's only one economically sound answer: Congress must raise the debt ceiling, end the sequester, put more people to work, and increase our investment in education and infrastructure.

Here are the three reasons why Republican deficit hawks are wrong. (Please watch and share our attached video.)

FIRST: Deficit and debt numbers are meaningless on their own. They have to be viewed as a percent of the national economy.

That ratio is critical. As long as the yearly deficit continues to drop as a percent of the national economy, as it's been doing for several years now, we can more easily pay what we owe.

SECOND: America needs to run larger deficits when lots of people are unemployed or underemployed -- as they still are today, when millions remain too discouraged to look for jobs and millions more are in part-time jobs and need full-time work.

As we've known for years -- in every economic downturn and in every struggling recovery - more government spending helps create jobs -- teachers, fire fighters, police officers, social workers, people to rebuild roads and bridges and parks. And the people in these jobs create far more jobs when they spend their paychecks.

This kind of spending thereby grows the economy -- thereby increasing tax revenues and allowing the deficit to shrink in proportion.

Doing the opposite -- cutting back spending when a lot of people are still out of work -- as Congress has done with the sequester, as much of Europe has done -- causes economies to slow or even shrink, which makes the deficit larger in proportion.

This is why austerity economics is a recipe for disaster, as it's been in Greece. Creditors and institutions worried about Greece's debt forced it to cut spending, the spending cuts led to a huge economic recession, which reduced tax revenues, and made the debt crisis there worse.

THIRD AND FINALLY: Deficit spending on investments like education and infrastructure is different than other forms of spending, because this spending builds productivity and future economic growth.

It's like a family borrowing money to send a kid to college or start a business. If the likely return on the investment exceeds the borrowing costs, it should be done.

Keep these three principles in mind and you won't be fooled by scare tactics of the deficit hawks.

And you'll understand why we have to raise the debt ceiling, end the sequester, put more people to work, and increase rather than decrease spending on vital public investments like education and infrastructure.

ROBERT B. REICH's new book, "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few," will be out September 29. His film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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Hillary, Bernie, and the Banks

(114) Comments | Posted October 9, 2015 | 2:11 PM

Giant Wall Street banks continue to threaten the well-being of millions of Americans, but what to do?

Bernie Sanders says break them up and resurrect the Glass-Steagall Act that once separated investment from commercial banking.

Hillary Clinton says charge them a bit more and oversee them more carefully.

Most Republicans...

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Why the Washington Post's Attack on Bernie Sanders Is Bunk

(350) Comments | Posted October 2, 2015 | 9:50 AM

The Washington Post just ran an attack on Bernie Sanders that distorts not only what he's saying and seeking but also the basic choices that lie before the nation. Sanders, writes the Post's David Fahrenthold, "is not just a big-spending liberal. And his agenda is not just about money....

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Why We Must End Upward Pre-Distributions to the Rich

(85) Comments | Posted September 27, 2015 | 8:24 PM

You often hear inequality has widened because globalization and technological change have made most people less competitive, while making the best educated more competitive.

There's some truth to this. The tasks most people used to do can now be done more cheaply by lower-paid workers abroad or by computer-driven machines.

But this common explanation overlooks a critically important phenomenon: the increasing concentration of political power in a corporate and financial elite that has been able to influence the rules by which the economy runs.

As I argue in my new book, Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few (out this week), this transformation has amounted to a pre-distribution upward.

Intellectual property rights -- patents, trademarks, and copyrights -- have been enlarged and extended, for example, creating windfalls for pharmaceutical companies.

Americans now pay the highest pharmaceutical costs of any advanced nation.

At the same time, antitrust laws have been relaxed for corporations with significant market power, such as big food companies, cable companies facing little or no broadband competition, big airlines, and the largest Wall Street banks.

As a result, Americans pay more for broadband Internet, food, airline tickets, and banking services than the citizens of any other advanced nation.

Bankruptcy laws have been loosened for large corporations -- airlines, automobile manufacturers, even casino magnates like Donald Trump -- allowing them to leave workers and communities stranded.

But bankruptcy has not been extended to homeowners burdened by mortgage debt or to graduates laden with student debt. Their debts won't be forgiven.

The largest banks and auto manufacturers were bailed out in 2008, shifting the risks of economic failure onto the backs of average working people and taxpayers.

Contract laws have been altered to require mandatory arbitration before private judges selected by big corporations. Securities laws have been relaxed to allow insider trading of confidential information.

CEOs now use stock buybacks to boost share prices when they cash in their own stock options.

Tax laws have special loopholes for the partners of hedge funds and private-equity funds, special favors for the oil and gas industry, lower marginal income-tax rates on the highest incomes, and reduced estate taxes on great wealth.

Meanwhile, so-called "free trade" agreements, such as the pending Trans Pacific Partnership, give stronger protection to intellectual property and financial assets but less protection to the labor of average working Americans.

Today, nearly one out of every three working Americans is in a part-time job. Many are consultants, freelancers and independent contractors. Two-thirds are living paycheck to paycheck.

And employment benefits have shriveled. The portion of workers with any pension connected to their job has fallen from just over half in 1979 to under 35 percent today.

Labor unions have been eviscerated. Fifty years ago, when General Motors was the largest employer in America, the typical GM worker, backed by a strong union, earned $35 an hour in today's dollars.

Now America's largest employer is Walmart, and the typical entry-level Walmart worker, without a union, earns about $9 an hour.

More states have adopted so-called "right-to-work" laws, designed to bust unions. The National Labor Relations Board, understaffed and overburdened, has barely enforced collective bargaining.

All of these changes have resulted in higher corporate profits, higher returns for shareholders, and higher pay for top corporate executives and Wall Street bankers - and lower pay and higher prices for most other Americans.

They amount to a giant pre-distribution upward to the rich. But we're not aware of them because they're hidden inside the market.

The underlying problem, then, is not just globalization and technological changes that have made most American workers less competitive. Nor is it that they lack enough education to be sufficiently productive.

The more basic problem is that the market itself has become tilted ever more in the direction of moneyed interests that have exerted disproportionate influence over it, while average workers have steadily lost bargaining power -- both economic and political -- to receive as large a portion of the economy's gains as they commanded in the first three decades after World War II.

Reversing the scourge of widening inequality requires reversing the upward pre-distributions within the rules of the market, and giving average people the bargaining power they need to get a larger share of the gains from growth.

The answer to this problem is not found in economics. It is found in politics. Ultimately, the trend toward widening inequality in America, as elsewhere, can be reversed only if the vast majority join together to demand fundamental change.

The most important political competition over the next decades will not be between the right and left, or between Republicans and Democrats. It will be between a majority of Americans who have been losing ground, and an economic elite that refuses to recognize or respond to its growing distress.

ROBERT B. REICH's new book, "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few," will be out September 29. His film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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Why We Must Fight the Attack on Planned Parenthood

(662) Comments | Posted September 16, 2015 | 9:25 AM

On Thursday, right-wing extremists in the U.S. House of Representatives will vote to try to defund Planned Parenthood, one of the nation's largest providers of women's health care and family planning services.

Planned Parenthood is under attack and it's up to all of us to fight back. Any society that respects women must respect their right to control their own bodies. There is a strong moral case to be made for this -- but this video isn't about that. This is about the economics of family planning -- which are one more reason it's important for all of us to stand up and defend Planned Parenthood.

Reproductive rights, family planning, and women's health are all interrelated. All girls and women need full information and access to family planning services, including abortion -- regardless of their income level--so they can determine if or when they have children.

Public investments in family planning -- enabling women to plan, delay, or avoid pregnancy -- make economic sense, because reproductive rights are also productive rights. When women have control over their lives, they can contribute even more to the economy, better break the glass ceiling, equalize the pay gap, and much more.

Take the state of Colorado's highly successful family planning program. Over the past six years, in Colorado health department has offered teenagers and low-income women free long-acting birth control that prevents pregnancy over several years. Pregnancy and abortion rates plunged--by about 40 percent among teenagers across the state from 2009 to 2013.

In 2009, half of all first births to women in the poorest areas of the state occurred before they turned 21. But by 2014, half of first births did not occur until the women had turned 24, a difference that gives young women time to finish their education and obtain better jobs.

Nationally, evidence shows that public investments in family planning result in net public savings of about $13.6 billion a year -- over $7 for every public dollar spent.

This sum doesn't include the billions of additional dollars saved by enabling women who may not be financially able to raise a child and do not want to have a child or additional children to stay out of poverty.

Yet, over the last five years Republicans have cut 10 percent of the Title X federal budget for family planning, which also pays for critical services such as cancer screenings and HIV tests. And the Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee has gone as far as trying to eliminate the program.

Meanwhile, many states have been cutting or eliminating family-planning funds. This isn't just morally wrong; its bad economics.

Obviously, these crass economic numbers don't nearly express the full complexity of the national debate around abortion and family planning. And they help make the case that we all benefit when society respects women to control their bodies and plan their families.

ROBERT B. REICH's new book, "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few," will be out September 29. His film "Inequality for All" is now available on DVD and blu-ray, and on Netflix. Watch the trailer below:

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Ranking Colleges

(35) Comments | Posted September 14, 2015 | 12:06 PM

After heavy lobbying from some of the nation's most elite institutions of higher education, the President has just abandoned his effort to rank the nation's 7,000 colleges and universities.

So, with college application season almost upon us, where should aspiring college students and their parents look for...

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A Crisis of Public Morality, Not Private Morality

(238) Comments | Posted September 8, 2015 | 2:08 PM

At a time many Republican presidential candidates and state legislators are furiously focusing on private morality -- what people do in their bedrooms, contraception, abortion, gay marriage -- America is experiencing a far more significant crisis in public morality.

CEOs of large corporations now earn 300 times the wages of...

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Labor Day 2028

(100) Comments | Posted September 1, 2015 | 9:31 AM

In 1928, famed British economist John Maynard Keynes predicted that technology would advance so far in a hundred years -- by 2028 -- that it will replace all work, and no one will need to worry about making money.

"For the first time since his creation man will be...

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The Upsurge in Uncertain Work

(170) Comments | Posted August 25, 2015 | 9:26 AM

As Labor Day looms, more Americans than ever don't know how much they'll be earning next week or even tomorrow.

This varied group includes independent contractors, temporary workers, the self-employed, part-timers, freelancers, and free agents. Most file 1099s rather than W2s, for tax purposes.

On demand and on call --...

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Corporate Welfare in California

(122) Comments | Posted August 20, 2015 | 6:16 PM

Corporate welfare is often camouflaged in taxes that seem neutral on their face but give windfalls to big entrenched corporations at the expense of average people and small businesses.

Take a look at commercial property taxes in California, for example.

In 1978 California voters passed Proposition 13 - which began to assess property for tax purposes at its price when it was bought, rather than its current market price.

This has protected homeowners and renters. But it's also given a quiet windfall to entrenched corporate owners of commercial property.

Corporations don't need this protection. They're in the real economy. They're supposed to compete on a level playing field with new companies whose property taxes are based on current market prices.

This corporate windfall has caused three big problems.

First, it's shifted more of the property tax on to California homeowners.

Back in 1978, corporations paid 44 percent of all property taxes and homeowners paid 56 percent. Now, after exploiting this loophole for years, corporations pay only 28 percent of property taxes, while homeowners pick up 72 percent of the tab.

Second, it's robbed California of billions of dollars to support schools and local services. If all corporations were paying the property taxes they should be paying, schools and local services would have $9 billion dollars more in revenues this year.

Third, it penalizes new and expanding businesses that don't get this windfall because their commercial property is assessed at the current market price - but they compete for customers with companies whose property is assessed at the price they purchased it years ago.

That's unfair and it's bad for the economy because California needs new and expanding businesses.

Today, almost half of all commercial properties in California pay their fair share of property taxes, but they're hobbled by those that don't.

This loophole must be closed. All corporations should be paying commercial property taxes based on current market prices.

The giant corporations that are currently exploiting the loophole for their own profits obviously don't want it closed, so they're trying to scare people by saying closing it will cause businesses to leave California.

That's baloney. Leveling the playing field for all businesses will make the California economy more efficient, and help new and expanding businesses.

Besides, California's property taxes are already much lower than the national average. So even if corporations pay their full share, they're still getting a great deal.

Right now, a grassroots movement is growing of Californians determined to reform this broken commercial property tax system, and who know California needs more stable funding for its schools, libraries, roads, and communities.

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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The Fraud of the New "Family-Friendly" Work

(62) Comments | Posted August 17, 2015 | 1:17 PM

Netflix just announced it's offering paid leave for new mothers and fathers for the first year after the birth of adoption of a child. Other high-tech firms are close behind.

Some big law firms are also getting into the act. Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe is offering 22 paid weeks...

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The Outrageous Ascent of CEO Pay

(78) Comments | Posted August 9, 2015 | 10:46 PM

The Securities and Exchange Commission just ruled that large publicly held corporations must disclose the ratios of the pay of their top CEOs to the pay of their median workers.

About time.

For the last thirty years almost all incentives operating on American corporations have resulted in...

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