The year was 1993. President Clinton nominated his old college pal Robert Reich as Labor Secretary.
Mr. Reich wasn’t just another juiced-in Friend of Bill with big pockets. Reich was a man of character and vision. He still is.
Secretary Reich understood the relationship between the government and the economy more clearly than his contemporaries.
At the time, Conservatives consistently clamored for less Federal intervention. They perceived government as the natural enemy of the free market. Liberals at the time, meanwhile, viewed government as the heroic police officer that stepped in and stopped rapacious businesses from getting their way.
Reich knew what we know now: both sides were preposterously wrong.
There is no free market. There is always government. Government sets the rules of capitalism in each country. But the rules aren’t always anti-business. Far from it. There are times when a government makes rules that are outrageously pro-business.
To Robert Reich, our economy is like an NFL game between two AFC powerhouses. There are always referees. You can’t have the game without them. But there is a serious problem when the referees rule that the go-ahead fourth quarter touchdown is an incomplete pass. Because then the refs have basically handed the game to one team. And now everyone is starting to lose faith in the sport.
The refs are the government. The New England Patriots are big corporations. And the Pittsburgh Steelers – the poor fools who had their winning touchdown stolen away in Week 15 – are the American workers.
For Secretary Reich, the solution was simple: next time there was a big rule change in Washington, he needed to make sure the new rule was NOT written by lobbyists for Bill Belichick.
Simple is not the same as easy. Reich completely failed. He resigned in quiet frustration in 1997.
Mr. Reich is too polite and loyal to explicitly say it, but he subtly admits the ugly truth: when it came to twisting the rules to give big business more power, Clinton was like Reagan on steroids. Corporate sponsored steroids.
“Saving Capitalism” – as the name suggests – doesn’t condemn capitalism at all. It states that the biggest threat to our glorious economic system is resentment caused by wealth inequality. And wealth inequality is caused by too much corporate money influencing Washington.
It’s a reasonable premise. Robert Reich is a reasonable man. I must warn you, my leftist readers, you may be horrified as he talks to Republican congressmen and lobbyists as if they are fellow human beings worthy of living. Indeed, you may faint when Reich chats with Trump voters and suggests that they are essentially on his side – the side of anti-Trust government action and populist reform.
His premise is reasonable. His dialogue with all sides is reasonable. His conclusion is idiotic.
Robert Reich concludes – quixotically – that if people get politically active we can turn the tide of history. We can boot big money out of Washington. We can change the rules and turn the Patriots into a .500 team again.
Reich is dead wrong. He was Secretary of Labor for a Democratic President with a Democrat-controlled Congress before Citizens United. And he accomplished nothing. Now he is suggesting that getting out the vote is going to solve our problems. Ha.