SANTA CRUZ -- Former cabinet secretaries often retire to think tanks, quiet academic positions or perhaps the golf course, in between their memoirs and the occasional op-ed. Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich -- who served in the Clinton administration from 1993-97 -- has taken a different tack.
Reich, who visits Santa Cruz on Tuesday, April 5, is smack in the middle of the political hurly burly in this election year, making himself the most prominent former Cabinet member in this year's political discussion with the obvious exception of one former Secretary of State who is the Democratic frontrunner.
Reich's address will be drawn from his most recent book "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few." He is the author of 14 books on American economics and politics. His theories were at the center of the 2013 documentary "Inequality for All."
The Tuesday address at the Rio Theatre -- presented by the Blum Center on Poverty, Social Enterprise and Participatory Governance at UC Santa Cruz -- is free, but capacity has been reached. Reich will discuss economic and political issues with UCSC professor of psychology Heather Bullock. The event will be live streamed.
Reich took the time to answer a few questions on his economic ideas and his role as a vocal political advocate in a contentious election season.
Q Is it fair to distill your message this election year to the notion that the economic system we're living under isn't capitalism but a perversion of capitalism? Much like gluttony is a perversion of healthy eating, or pornography a perversion of healthy sexuality?
A Capitalism as a system isn't inherently good or bad. Countries as different as Denmark and China are all moving toward systems of capitalism. The American economy isn't a perversion of some ideal concept of capitalism, it's simply one version of the system. Who capitalism benefits and how it is used depends on individual governments. In the U.S., the real issue we should be discussing is whether our form of capitalism should be organized for the benefit of society as a whole or for the benefit of a small group of people at the top. I argue that our current economic system is built to benefit those already at the top and that we need to change this situation for the well-being of our nation as a whole. We have the power to decide how our economy is organized and to determine who it should work for.
Q At the time of the Revolution, John Jay famously said, "Those who own the country ought to govern it," which suggests that economic stratification is baked into the American experiment. Do you feel that the one-person-one-vote standard of democracy is in contradiction to the economic realities of the free market? Can the case be made that one-dollar-one-vote is a more accurate reflection of how the country should be run?
A As I've said before, the choice between a "free market" or "government" is illusory. Without government, the market wouldn't exist. It is not the market that determines how America is governed, but rather the government that determines the free market.
Government creates and enforces the free market by making all the decisions necessary to its organization. Rather than saying that the democratic one-person-one-vote standard is a contradiction of the free market, it's more accurate to say that the market as it exists in America today (rife with vast income inequality, rules favoring the wealthy and coercive tactics) has developed in opposition to the founding ideal of democracy.
To fix the economy, we need to fix our governing model. A one-dollar-one-vote system is not how the country should be run. We should actively avoid such a system, and we can start by altering laws that concentrate power in the hands of the few and by taking money out of politics.
Q The economic inequality argument has a lot in common with the climate change argument, in that you have to convince the public that a powerful unseen force is real and potentially catastrophic before you can address what should be done. You've been making that argument for decades. Are you to the point where you feel you've convinced people that the problem is real and now must pivot to the solutions?
A My books, movie and the online videos I create through the nonprofit Inequality Media have reached many people, but more work still needs to be done. A large number of Americans may still not understand or even be aware of the ways that the market is rigged to work against them. The issue of economic inequality is critical, and I'm working to increase awareness and disseminate information about this crisis. Particularly with "Inequality for All" and videos for Inequality Media, my goal is to reach a broader audience that perhaps my books wouldn't.
Q There is at least a third of the U.S. electorate that, because of political beliefs, are functionally unreachable to your argument over economic inequality. Is it crucial that those folks are engaged in this argument? Or can something meaningful be done despite their resistance, even hostility?
A For meaningful change to happen, there needs to be some cooperation from all parts of the electorate, but I don't think that the resistance of a few will prevent a movement from taking place. The key target audience is average Americans, not the political elite. The potential to transform the system is in their hands. Enormous power can be generated if ordinary citizens band together and mobilize to regain control of our economy.
I also don't think that there is any ideological group that is completely unreachable. On the book tour for my newest book, "Saving Capitalism," many self-identified "conservative Republicans" agreed with almost all of the points I make about the harms of big money in politics, crony-capitalism and corporate welfare.
Q Finally, with your experience behind the megaphone of the mass media, do you have any insights on the structural impediments of the news media that might prevent them from genuinely working on behalf of the public interest? What, in your view, would a media environment that works on behalf of equality and democracy look like?
A Perhaps one of the most harmful impediments preventing news media from serving the public is inaccurate information. The average person relies on popular news sources for information and when these sources publish misleading or factually incorrect information without fact-checking the claims, then they aren't working in the public's best interest.
Another dangerous impediment is bias. No news source will be completely neutral, but the blatant disregard for fair and objective coverage in American media is disconcerting.
A democratic and equal media environment would be one that propagates accurate and unbiased (to the extent that's possible) information. This kind of media environment should also work on behalf of the people, not the most powerful or the wealthiest. News media should empower people with knowledge and give them the tools to be engaged in their country. Mainstream media often doesn't have the interests of the vast majority of Americans at heart.
Robert Reich: 'Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few'
When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 5.
Where: The Rio Theatre, 1205 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz.
Tickets: Sold out, but the event will be live-streamed at ustream.tv/channel/MJEZw4EMeNB.
Details: riotheatre.com ------ (c)2016 the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) Visit the Santa Cruz Sentinel (Scotts Valley, Calif.) at www.santacruzsentinel.com Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC. AMX-2016-04-04T00:01:00-04:00