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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

The Revolt Against the Ruling Class

(96) Comments | Posted August 2, 2015 | 6:21 PM

"He can't possibly win the nomination," is the phrase heard most often when Washington insiders mention either Donald Trump or Bernie Sanders.

Yet as enthusiasm for the bombastic billionaire and the socialist senior continues to build within each party, the political establishment is mystified.

They don't understand that the...

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Happy Birthday Medicare

(101) Comments | Posted July 24, 2015 | 5:48 PM

Medicare turns fifty next week. It was signed into law July 30, 1965 -- the crowning achievement of Lyndon Johnson's Great Society. It's more popular than ever.

Yet Medicare continues to be blamed for America's present and future budget problems.

A few days ago Jeb Bush even suggested phasing...

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Why Progressives Must Stay United

(210) Comments | Posted July 22, 2015 | 12:24 PM

A new report finds more U.S. children living in poverty than before the Great Recession. According to the report, released Tuesday from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, 22 percent of American children are living in poverty (as of 2013, the latest data available) compared with 18 percent in 2008.

...
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How Goldman Sachs Profited from the Greek Debt Crisis

(104) Comments | Posted July 17, 2015 | 4:10 PM

The Greek debt crisis offers another illustration of Wall Street's powers of persuasion and predation, although the Street is missing from most accounts.

The crisis was exacerbated years ago by a deal with Goldman Sachs, engineered by Goldman's current CEO, Lloyd Blankfein.

Blankfein and his Goldman team helped Greece...

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Hillary Clinton's Glass-Steagall

(187) Comments | Posted July 14, 2015 | 9:52 PM

Hillary Clinton won't propose reinstating a bank break-up law known as the Glass-Steagall Act -- at least according to Alan Blinder, an economist who has been advising Clinton's campaign. "You're not going to see Glass-Steagall," Blinder said after her economic speech Monday in which she failed to mention it....

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The Choice Ahead: A Private Health-Insurance Monopoly or a Single Payer

(449) Comments | Posted July 6, 2015 | 8:03 AM

The Supreme Court's recent blessing of Obamacare has precipitated a rush among the nation's biggest health insurers to consolidate into two or three behemoths.

The result will be good for their shareholders and executives, but bad for the rest of us -- who will pay through the nose for the...

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On Patriotism

(8) Comments | Posted July 4, 2015 | 12:27 PM

A few words about patriotism -- something we talk a lot about, especially around July 4th, but seldom stop to examine its real meaning.

True patriotism isn't simply about waving the American flag. And it's not mostly about securing our borders from outsiders.

It's about coming together for the common good.

Real patriotism is not cheap. It requires taking on a fair share of the burdens of keeping America going -- being willing to pay taxes in full rather than seeking tax loopholes and squirreling away money abroad.

Patriotism is about preserving and protecting our democracy, not inundating it with big money and buying off politicians.

True patriots don't hate the government of the United States. They're proud of it. They may not like everything it does, and they justifiably worry when special interests gain too much power over it. But true patriots work to improve our government, not destroy it.

Finally, patriots don't pander to divisiveness. They don't fuel racist or religious or ethnic divisions. They aren't homophobic or sexist.

To the contrary, true patriots seek to confirm and strengthen the "we" in "we the people of the United States."

Have a happy and safe Fourth of July.

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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Overtime: Finally, A Break for the Middle Class

(124) Comments | Posted July 1, 2015 | 2:11 PM

The U.S. Department of Labor just proposed raising the overtime threshold -- what you can be paid and still qualify to be paid "time-and-a-half" beyond 40 hours per week -- from $23,600 a year to $50,400.

This is a big deal. Some 5 million workers will get a raise. (See...

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Why We Must Fight Economic Apartheid in America

(45) Comments | Posted June 28, 2015 | 6:43 PM

Almost lost by the wave of responses to the Supreme Court's decisions last week upholding the Affordable Care Act and allowing gays and lesbians to marry was the significance of the Court's decision on housing discrimination.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court found that the Fair Housing...

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Making the Economy Work for the Many and Not the Few #12: Most Important of All, Get Big Money Out of Politics

(92) Comments | Posted June 23, 2015 | 5:54 PM

Over the past two months, the videos I've done with MoveOn.org have detailed several ways to make the economy work for the many, not the few: raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour, making public higher education free, busting up the big banks, expanding Social Security, making polluters pay, raising the estate tax, strengthening unions, ending corporate welfare, helping families succeed economically, and letting all Americans buy into Medicare.

But none of these is possible if we don't get big money out of politics.

In fact, nothing we need to do as a nation is possible unless we limit the political power of the moneyed interests.

So we made one more video -- the one accompanying this post -- and it's incredibly important you share this one, too.

At the rate we're going, the 2016 election is likely to be the most expensive in history -- and the moneyed interests will be responsible for most of it. Our democracy is broken, and we must fix it.

Easy to say, but how do we do it?

First and most immediately, require full disclosure of all original sources of campaign money -- so the public knows who's giving what to whom, and can hold politicians accountable if they do favors for contributors while neglecting their responsibilities to all of us.

If Congress won't enact a law requiring such full disclosure, the Federal Election Commission has the power to do it on its own and the SEC can do it for public corporations -- which, by the way, are major campaign spenders.

Meanwhile, the president should issue an executive order requiring all federal contractors to fully disclose their political contributions. There's a growing movement to encourage him to do just that.

Next, our government should provide matching funds for small-donor contributions -- say $3 in public dollars for every $1 dollar from a small donor. Those public dollars could come from a check-off on your income tax return indicating you want, say, $15 of your taxes devoted to public financing of elections.

Third and most importantly, we must reverse the Supreme Court's 5-4 First Amendment decisions holding that money is speech and corporations have the political rights of people -- and that therefore no laws can be enacted limiting the amount of money wealthy individuals or big corporations can spend on elections.

We have to work hard for a constitutional amendment to overturn "Citizen's United" -- with the understanding that we'll either succeed in amending our Constitution, or we'll build a social movement powerful enough to influence the Supreme Court, just like the movement that led to the historic "Brown v. the Board of Education" decision.

Ultimately we need Supreme Court justices who understand that the freedom of speech of most Americans is drowned out when big money can spend as much as it wants, to be as loud as it needs to be.

The fundamental rule for an economy that works for everyone is a democracy that works, period.

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 and Not the Few #11: Medicare Isn't the Problem; It's the Solution

(47) Comments | Posted June 22, 2015 | 8:37 AM

Again and again the upcoming election you'll hear conservatives claim that Medicare -- the health insurance program for America's seniors -- is running out of money and must be pared back.

Baloney. Medicare isn't the problem. In fact, Medicare is more efficient than private health insurance.The real problem is that the costs of health care are expected to rise steeply.

Medicare could be the solution -- the logical next step after the Affordable Care Act toward a single-payer system.

Please see the accompanying video -- #11 in our series on ideas to make the economy work for the many rather than for the few. And please share.

Some background: Medicare faces financial problems in future years because of two underlying trends that will affect all health care in coming years, regardless of what happens to Medicare:

The first is that healthcare costs are rising overall -- not as fast as they were rising before the Affordable Care Act went into effect, but still rising too quickly.

The second is that the giant post­war baby boom is heading toward retirement and older age. Which means more elderly people will need more health care, adding to the rising costs.

So how should we deal with these two costly trends? By making Medicare available to all Americans, not just the elderly.

Remember, Medicare is more efficient than private health insurers ­­ whose administrative costs and advertising and marketing expenses are eating up billions of dollars each year.

If more Americans were allowed to join Medicare, it could become more efficient by using its growing bargaining power to get lower drug prices, lower hospital bills, and healthier people.

Allowing all Americans to join Medicare is the best way to control future healthcare costs while also meeting the needs of the baby boomer and other Americans.

Everyone should be able to sign up for Medicare on the healthcare exchanges set up under the Affordable Care Act.This would begin to move America away from its reliance on expensive private health insurance, and toward Medicare for all - a single­ payer system.

Medicare isn't a problem. It's part of the solution.


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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How to Punish Bank Felons

(63) Comments | Posted June 21, 2015 | 10:01 AM

What exactly does it mean for a big Wall Street bank to plead guilty to a serious crime? Right now, practically nothing.

But it will if California's Santa Cruz County has any say.

First, some background.

Five giant banks -- including Wall Street behemoths JPMorgan Chase and Citicorp --...

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Making the Economy Work for The Many and Not the Few #10: End Mass Incarceration, Now.

(58) Comments | Posted June 19, 2015 | 12:17 PM

Imprisoning a staggering number of our people is wrong. The way our nation does it is even worse. We must end mass incarceration, now.

If I'm walking down the street with a Black or Latino friend, my friend is way more likely to be stopped by the police, questioned, and even arrested. Even if we're doing the exact same thing--he or she is more likely to be convicted and sent to jail.

Unless we recognize the racism and abuse of our criminal justice system and tackle the dehumanizing stereotypes that underlie it, our nation - and our economy - will never be as strong as it could be.

Please take a moment to watch the accompanying video, and please share it so others can understand what's at stake for so many Americans.

Here are the facts:

Today, the United States has 5 percent of the world's population, but has 25 percent of its prisoners, and we spend more than $80 billion each year on prisons.

The major culprit is the so-called War on Drugs. There were fewer than 200,000 Americans behind bars as recently as the mid-70's. Then, a racially-tinged drug hysteria swept our nation, and we saw a wave of increasingly militant policing that targeted communities of color and poorer neighborhoods.

With "mandatory minimums" and "three strikes out" laws, the number of Americans behind bars soon ballooned to nearly 2.5 million today, despite widespread evidence that locking people up doesn't make us safer.

Unconscious bias and cultural stereotypes lead to discriminatory enforcement of the laws - from who gets pulled over to where police conduct drug sweeps.

Even though Blacks, whites, and Latinos use drugs at similar rates, people with black and brown skin are more likely to be pulled over, searched, arrested, charged with a crime, convicted, and sent to jails and prisons where they can be subject to some of the worst human rights abuses.

As a result, black people incarcerated at a rate five times that of whites, and Latinos incarcerated at a rate double that of white Americans.

Even if you've "served your time," you never escape the label.

A felony conviction can bar you from getting a student loan, putting a roof over your head, or even from voting. It might even disqualify you from getting a job which can make it impossible for people with felony convictions to pull themselves out of poverty. And many who end up in prison were living in chronic poverty to begin with.

All of this means a lot of potential human talent is going to waste. We're spending a fortune locking people up who could fuel our economy and build strong communities, in some cases just to increase the profits of private prison corporations.

So what do we do?

First, enact smarter sentencing laws that end mandatory minimums and transform the way we treat people who enter the criminal justice system. Instead of prisons and jails, we need well-paying jobs, and to invest in proven and cost-effective alternatives to incarceration, like job training and mental health and drug treatment programs.

Second, stop the militarized policing and end discriminatory policing practices such as "stop and frisk" and "broken windows" that disproportionately target communities of color.

Third, stop building new jails, start closing some existing ones, and begin to invest in schools, public transit, and housing assistance or local jobs programs. States are spending more and more on prisons, while cutting funding for schools. That's crazy.

Finally, "ban the box" - the box on job applications that asks whether you have ever been convicted of a felony on a job application. Already, dozens of states cities, and counties have passed bills requiring that employers consider what you can do in the future, not what you might have done in the past.

Instead of locking people up unjustly, and then locking them out of the economy for the rest of their lives, we need to stop wasting human talent and start opening doors of opportunity - to everyone.


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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Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Nearly Dead

(196) Comments | Posted June 14, 2015 | 6:22 PM

How can it be that the largest pending trade deal in history -- a deal backed both by a Democratic president and Republican leaders in Congress -- is nearly dead?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership may yet squeak through Congress but its near-death experience offers an important lesson.

It's not...

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How to Make the Economy Work for the Many, Not the Few #8: Make the Polluters Pay Us

(197) Comments | Posted June 9, 2015 | 1:36 PM

Instead of investing in dirty fuels, let's start charging polluters for poisoning our skies - and then invest the revenue so that it benefits everyone.

Each ton of carbon that's released into the atmosphere costs our nation between $40 and $100, and we release millions of tons of it every year.

Businesses don't pay that cost. They pass it along to the rest of us--in the form of more extreme weather and all the costs to our economy and health resulting from it.

We've actually invested more than $6 trillion in fossil fuels since 2007. The money has been laundered through our savings and tax dollars.

This has got to be reversed.

We can clean our environment and strengthen the economy if we (1) divest from carbon polluters, (2) make the polluters pay a price to pollute, and (3) then collect the money.

Please see the accompanying video up top, and share.

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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Anticipatory Bribery

(58) Comments | Posted June 7, 2015 | 10:09 PM

Washington has been rocked by the scandal of J. Dennis Hastert, the longest-serving Republican speaker in the history of the U.S. House, indicted on charges of violating banking laws by paying $1.7 million (as part of a $3.5 million agreement) to conceal prior misconduct, which turns out to have been...

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Making the Economy Work for the Many, Not the Few: #8 Raise the Estate Tax on the Very Rich

(348) Comments | Posted June 4, 2015 | 10:49 AM


At a time of historic economic inequality, it should be a no-brainer to raise a tax on inherited wealth for the very rich. Yet there's a move among some members of Congress to abolish it altogether.

If you're as horrified at the prospect of abolishing the estate tax as I am, I hope you'll watch and share the accompanying video.

Today the estate tax reaches only the richest two-tenths of one percent, and applies only to dollars in excess of $10.86 million for married couples or $5.43 million for individuals.

That means if a couple leaves to their heirs $10,860,001, they now pay the estate tax on $1. The current estate tax rate is 40%, so that would be 40 cents.

Yet according to these members of Congress, that's still too much.

Abolishing the estate tax would give each of the wealthiest two-tenths of 1 percent of American households an average tax cut of $3 million, and the 318 largest estates would get an average tax cut of $20 million.

It would also reduce tax revenues by $269 billion over ten years. The result would be either larger federal deficits or higher taxes on the rest of us to fill the gap.

This is nuts. The richest 1 percent of Americans now have 42 percent of the nation's entire wealth, while the bottom 90 percent has just 23 percent.

That's the greatest concentration of wealth at the top than at any time since the Gilded Age of the 1890s.

Instead of eliminating the tax on inherited wealth, we should increase it - back to the level it was in the late 1990s. The economy did wonderfully well in the late 1990s, by the way.

Adjusted for inflation, the estate tax restored to its level in 1998 would begin to touch estates valued at $1,748,000 per couple.

That would yield approximately $448 billion over the next ten years - way more than enough to finance ten years of universal preschool and two free years of community college for all eligible students.

Our democracy's Founding Fathers did not want a privileged aristocracy. Yet that's the direction we're going in. The tax on inherited wealth is one of the major bulwarks against it. That tax should be increased and strengthened.

It's time to rein in America's surging inequality. It's time to raise the estate tax.

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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State of Disaster

(250) 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

(289) 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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