Book Review: Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert B. Reich
Robert Reich may be one of my favorite people in the world. If you haven't seen the documentary Inequality for All, I highly recommend it, especially if you're on the fence about reading a book about economics.
As former Secretary of Labor for President Clinton, Reich was named as one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries in the twentieth century by Time Magazine. He's attended Dartmouth, the University of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and Yale Law School.
He narrated this audiobook which was pure heaven for me. If I'm going to listen to how our current economic system has been manipulated to create the variety of problems we're living through, then his voice will keep me calm. While he's emphatic, he's not dramatic. He delivers his points in a soothing and even-tempered tone.
The book opens with an overview of our modern economic times. He covers the prosperity we experienced in the thirty years after WWII. The growth of our economy and the earnings of the middle class. Both doubled. By contrast, in the past thirty years the size of our economy has doubled, but the earnings of the typical American were stagnant.
And now we've reached a place where the 400 richest people in America have more wealth than the bottom 150 million Americans put together.
We've created a country where people are cynical about our arbitrary economy. There's been a steady undermining of trust that anyone has a chance at success.
The first half of the book analyzes how we've gotten to the this place of despair.
Reich considers the debate about a free market operating better than the government as meaningless. How can a free market exist without government? He explains how this debate is a distraction.
He covers the building blocks of capitalism with an introduction of each. Then within individual chapters, he analyzes these building blocks within modern context:
He looks at the links between money and power. In particular interest to me, he examines the freedoms of the workers that have been stripped away; how unions have been stomped out.
Reich spends a good deal of time covering the impact intellectual property rights, including patents and copyrights, have affected the free market. He looks at various companies including Comcast, Monsanto, Amazon, Google, and Apple. He gives a mini-lecture on the history of breaking up monopolies that seriously raised my blood pressure!
Once he's covered these five building blocks in detail, he gives a ten minute summary to gel the pieces together. He explains how the market reflects our values as a society. All of our building blocks have been modified to benefit the rich. It's a reinforcing loop he describes as "economic dominance feeds political power and political power further enlarges economic dominance."
By this halfway point in the book, I had reached a place where I needed some serious good news. I found myself listening in increasingly smaller time frames because the analysis of the first half was so frustrating.
Part Two doesn't get immediately better. Reich debunks the myth that our society is a meritocracy. Some of this section helps because he sharply criticizes CEOs and their inflated salaries, and the inflated salaries of the Wall Street bankers.
He goes on to analyze the loss of bargaining power in the middle class and the effects of this loss. The two main groups of people he covers are the working poor and the nonworking rich. Both groups have grown.
Part Three covers countervailing power. This section gives the blueprint of the solution. Sadly, most of Reich's ideas sound like common sense. And yet, the people with the money and power don't want to implement these ideas because they like the system skewed in their favor. They aren't going to voluntarily give up their advantage
Even more sad, our apathy is killing us. In the 2012 Presidential Election, 58.2% of eligible voters cast their ballots. In the 2014 mid-term elections, 33.2% of the voting age population came out. Now mid-term elections always have lower turn out rates, but the 2014 turn out was the lowest since 1942!
1942. A year when many Americans were at war or couldn't get to a polling place. And 2014 was lower than that year.
So many pieces of this book just angered and frustrated me. But is was good angry. For one thing, I know I'm listening to this book again. I am incredibly happy that I had the good sense to purchase this audiobook. My Person and I will enjoy it on a future road trip. Great brain food!
And it was good frustration. I know that I have to be more proactive in writing to my Senators and Representatives. I need to voice my concerns to my local and state representatives as well. I should be attending a few school board meetings each year. I am a teacher, after all. If nothing else, Reich convinced me that I have to do more to fight the establishment and re-establish a meaningful countervailing power.