Robert Reich, Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley

Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)

Long on Description – Short on Prescription

by George Kennedy

Robert Reich is among the most thoughtful and prolific of the Liberal bloggers today. Why not? If anyone speaks to and for “everywoman” and “everyman”, Reich does. He speaks a language that strikes at where most Americans live – often just barely.

In a July 2 piece “Freedom, Power, and the Conservative Mind”, Reich makes the obvious and painful point that American society concentrates income, wealth, and power at the top of America. Nothing new so far. Laws and rules “tilt the playing field ever further in the direction of corporations and the wealthy.”

The laws and rules, Reich reminds us, were not shaped democratically nor do they reflect the values and preferences of most people. He then goes on to cite specific laws that tilt in favor of the 1 percent and he concludes on the note that our “free-market” economy “is not expanding options and opportunities for most people. It’s extending them for the few who are wealthy enough to influence how the market is organized.”

My concern with this piece is that at a time when most Americans are over the economic precipice, or clinging desperately to the edge, Reich is long on description (of the problems) and abysmally short on prescriptions. Most Americans understand the impact of rules that concentrate power in the hands of the wealthy and corporations.

I would offer that most people feel powerless to effect change, or how “to influence how the market is organized.” Often, you hear a familiar lament: “I am only one person – what can I do?” Or, “I can’t change anything so why vote? They ignore me anyway.”

What would Robert Reich have “most people” do in response to the storm of inequality he describes? The economic apocalypse that engulfs millions of American households is analogous to a gathering storm visible to most but we are left to wonder, where does it end? Am I going to get hurt this time?

I may have missed the intended audience for this particular piece. If Reich believes conservatives have a “very parched view of freedom”, was his purpose then to shock conservative sensibilities in search of a misplaced conscience?

Americans are desperate and therefore less likely to find utility in being reminded of the obvious.

Mr. Reich, we may not be as eloquent as you are in describing the problems we grapple with daily but we do understand the impact of the laws and rules that increasingly discriminate against us. What we want are ideas, solutions, or relief? What would you have us do? And, please be specific!

George Kennedy

George Kennedy is a retired senior Foreign Service officer with extensive international experience. He holds a B.A. from the University of Oregon and two graduate degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C. Mr. Kennedy was a political advisor to state and federal officials and has authored strategy pieces for Members of Congress and presidential candidates. He serves on the Advisory Board for the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the University of Arizona.

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