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Reich: Quick Jolt or Major Rebuild?
Workers are seen on the frame of a building under construction in Folsom, Calif., Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. American consumers and businesses cut back everywhere in the final three months of 2008. Shoppers chopped spending on cars, furniture, appliances, clothes and other items. Businesses dropped the ax on equipment and software, home building and commercial construction. And overseas sales of U.S.-made goods and services tanked as foreign buyers grappled with their own economic woes. (AP)

Workers are seen on the frame of a building under construction in Folsom, Calif., on Jan. 13, 2009. (AP)

An epic debate in the U.S. Senate this week on the Obama stimulus plan. Epic scale. Epic stakes: to push back recession, to stave off a depression, if we can.

Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says the ultimate stakes are, and should be, greater even than that. Reich doesn’t want to just pop the economy back to where it was — with growth, but also with deep inequality, a struggling middle class, crumbling infrastructure, global warming.

He wants growth and to change those things. Growth on a new foundation.

This hour, On Point: Robert Reich on the real fight in Washington.

You can join the conversation. What do you want from the federal government? From the Obama administration? A simple restart, thank you very much? Or a reshaping of the U.S. economy? What do we need?


Robert Reich joins us from Berkeley, Calif.  He was Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton and is now a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. His commentary in Sunday’s Washington Post examined the debate over short-term stimulus versus fundamental restructuring of the economy. His most recent book is “Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life.”


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  • http://www.richardsnotes.org Richard

    I’m a fan Dr. Reich and I hope you’re advising Obama in some way. I read your blog: http://robertreich.blogspot.com/ and listen carefully to you on NPR when you’re on.

    Keep up the great work.

  • pw

    Big jolt or major rebuild? Both, please! But first things first: the biggest possible jolt, probably bigger than the $8+ billion.

  • Alyssa

    Please use this once in a century opprotunity to rebuild the energy sector of the economy first, because of the implications for job growth and long term financial benefits.

    Second, I would prefer most of the money be distributed through the state governments. Focus those funds on public health, public education, and transportation infrastructure. Let the states determine the projects most in need without earmarking. Set goals and basic structure of the funding use, but the federal government should allow states to identify their own needs through their existing departments.

    I would like for the tax cuts to be very limited to only the lowest tax brackets. I am not in favor of the business tax cuts that are being used to sweeten the deal for the republican party. Let’s worry about people first, not businesses.

    Finally, I am very concerned about the oversight of the spending of federal dollars. So far only .05% of the funding is going to accounting oversight … please beef that up.

  • mike

    i believe both are need to help fixed our economy, instead of road repair, i think a amtrak, or such would be better in the long-run and creating green jobs and infrastructure now when gas prices are low is the prefect time along with re-investing in our schools health, and labor markets. and i hope they do attach conditions for banks and finacial institutions to be bailed out.

    in the short run it should have plans and goals to help the whole of people not a few.

    we will see

  • Patrick

    tom, i think this show poses an very important central question. please ask your guest the following.

    to what extent are the policy goals of short term efficient economic stimulus and long term transformation of the energy and healthcare sectors mutually antagonistic?

    how specifically would you prioritize and then move to reconcile these policy goals?


  • jeffe

    Amtrak? Sorry this turkey has left the building. It’s only viable on the two coasts and you would need to get the unions to make some concessions.

    The problem from where I sit is we have been have let everything fall by the wayside for too long.

    I read Dr. Reich’s blog this morning and it was very interesting. Seems we still have the same problems we had when he worked for Clinton, only worse.

    I just heard today on the news that the MBTA is 150 million in the red, which I was surprised to hear considering that ridership was up by a huge amount.
    The reason, the unions they get huge 14% increase a year in pay. I’m not against unions or organized labor, but this is absurd. Who gets 14% raises every year? They have train operators making over 100k a year. This is the reason nothing works in this country, everyone is out for themselves, there is no collective thought or ability to think about the community. Why 14%? Could they not have done just as well on 5% or 7%?

  • Ellen Oxfeld

    Healthare reform must take place, and we must take the insurance industry out of healthcare access. Our current non-system places huge burdens on business, and reform that leaves this as a for profit business rather than a public good will leave a huge burden on the economy. We don’t get “insurance” for other public goods such as education or the fire department.

    Medicare for All would save money and release funds for investment and new entrepreneurship.

  • Justin

    You know who wants honey bee insurance? Farmers. There has been massive die off of honey bees over the last couple years (It made 60 minutes) and suppliers have resorted to importing bees from Australia, which have had their own problems. Bees are needed to fertilize crops, and farmers pay substantial money for traveling bee hives to visit their farms. No bees, no crops, and then there will be another industry to be bailed out.

  • jeffe

    Justin is right about that. No bees no fruit or vegetables, period. The only thing we can grow are wheat and other grains.

    This is what happens when uneducated rubes become politicians and use their soap box to attack things they know nothing about.

  • Bruce Nichols

    I hear lots of talk about fixing this economy. Hundreds of billions being poured into banking, finance, housing, etc. trying to get things back on track. I wonder why no one is asking whether or not the whole model is wrong. Unrestricted growth, out of control finance, flawed structures such as the mortgage security fiasco. Maybe it is time to look at the entire structure of our society and economy. What is really important – an ever expanding tsunami of consuming “stuff” or creating a national life style based on “enough”. I see our current situation as one where everyone is trying to get the economic train back on the tracks, and those tracks run right of a cliff.

  • Arnold

    Look more closely at MBTA’s books. Also contributing to the budget issue are pension and healthcare costs. Guaranteed pension payments of 60% of the average of your last three years compensation (includes overtime, and is a higher % for management) for a pensioners living longer and reimbursement for prescription drugs (which at one point included Viagra) are structurally unsustainable.

  • rich

    How can American’s like me trust our new government when in fact we have a new Treasury Secretary claiming he did not know about his own tax liabilities? And now we have a nominee for Commerce with similar problems?

    I have GREAT respect for Secretary Reich and would like his comments on this subject.

    Thank you.

  • MargaretB

    Where’s our Harry Hopkins? Where’s our Louis Brandeis? Both trusted, instinctive problem solvers for their presidents.

    One biographer quoted a friend of Brandeis as saying that he was like the master lumberman you want on hand when there’s terrible log jam: he knew which log out of the thousands to move to unlock the jam.

  • denise peddle

    I am not an economy expert and will not offer advice on how to fix it. But I think that there is too much talk of doom and gloom perpetrated by the media and people are terrified to spend their money. Personally I am no worse off than a year ago, maybe better because of lower fuel and food prices. Yes I lost a percentage of my 401 k but wont need it for 10 years, plenty of time to come back. Also my house is worth less but so is the house I might purchase when I downsize. If everyone could just relax a little and not be ruled by fear people would start spending again. The bubble needed to burst and people need to start living within their means. But we dont have to be living in a state of panic…THNX DP

  • Jeanne McCrorie

    Unemployment is the #1 issue. Both parties agree that the most important result of the stimulus should be job creation, but a return to a “consumer based economy” is not ultimately sustainable. The jobs that are created need to be in new energy, infrastructure, health care, etc. Structural change is absolutely required. When private equity takes notice of where the government priorities are, then the private funding will follow as Robert Reich noted as the multiplier effect.

  • Peter Szymkowicz

    No more bailouts for banks. Give the money to U.S. citizens ($10,000.) each.If banks want to participate in FDIC, make banks restablish 5% savings accounts. FDIC protection limit at $100,000. Citizens earning over $200,000. must pay taxes on their grants.

  • Drew

    Short term thinking has dominated our economic principles. Seems to me that wanting short term stimulus in the form of bailout or tax cuts is just a continuation of the very mindset that brought us to this point – an economy based on consumption in which the consumer (either corporate or citizen) relies to strongly on debt to consume.

  • Arnold

    “Total bankcard debt per bankcard borrower” is $5,710. This was alternately described as the total balance of bank-issued credit cards per consumer. (Source: TransUnion, December 2008)

    Giving people $10K is a bank bailout; it will be used to lower household debt, make mortgage payments, or be saved in a non-interest bearing account.

  • Bill Walsh

    I believe most of our problems stem from the corosive influence of money in politics. When a Billy Tauzin (R-La) writes the drug component of the Health Care Bill and retires immediately to a million dollar position with PHARMA you know there’s a serious problem.
    Until we find a way to get money out of politics we’re doomed to a downward cycle bred by greed.

  • Arnold

    How about the millions Daschle got paid after he lost his Senate seat? Who paid him? Healthcare companies who wanted his “expertise” and access to Congress, though he never had to register as a lobbyist. As a result, Obama didn’t have to use at least his third waiver of his anti-lobbyist executive order.

    I agree with you completely Bill. Campaign finance needs to be tightened up considerably.

  • Frank Loeffler

    I’d like to know the logic behind equating equality of income with a strong economy, as intimated by Mr. Reich during today’s show. For my simple mind I can not tell the difference(economically speaking) between one person or entity spending $100 and ten people spending $10. The “big spenders” who buy jets, yachts, business and vacation junkets, on and on, are all putting money into the economy that ultimately supports the middle class entourage that provides these upper class niceties. Let’s not fall into the class envy trap: as long as everybody has basically equal opportunity, that is what matters.

    Frank Loeffler
    Cornish, NH

  • kevin

    This is the socalist that does not like “white male construction workers”…yeah..we need more racists like him.

  • Arnold

    Another Obama nominee bites the dust. Nancy Killefer who was in Clinton’s Treasury Department has tax issues. Geithner, Daschle, Killefer, Rangel,… Now I know why Democrats want higher taxes, they don’t plan on paying them anyway.

  • Alex

    Frank – the guy who has $100 to spend very soon figures out that he can finance electoral and lobbying campaigns that produce favorable legislature and no-bid handouts from the taxpayer’s funds. Before you know it, the guy gets to spend $150 while the other ten have only $5 each. The concept of equal ooportunity then becomes a genuine concern. I don’t think it is just a class envy.

  • Orrin Doxer

    Dr. Reich probably said the most profound statement regarding the economy today, and I’ll paraphrase to the best of my ability…”They are trying something no one has ever seen before. If that doesn’t work then they will have to try something else. If some economist tells you they have the solution, hold onto your wallet. No one knows how deep or long this recession will be”….. Is it possible to get the actual quote. In these very troubling times, I think all of us as U.S. citizens need to take heed as to what he said. It is a bi-partisan statement. Thank you

  • http://dontmarry-incorporate.blogspot.com/ Bill W.

    Hi, Tom…

    Great show, as ever, and thank heavens Bob Reich can keep up with you (and he doesn’t choke on his coffee–and can even remember the callers’ names!)

    I was waiting to here either or both of you say that China probably is now aware that “The US is too big to fail” and will, once again, bail us out.

    And it’s so much easier for the Chinese, because they don’t have to go through with the time-wasting charade of “obtaining consensus” as we do in the US. (My skeptical, nay, cynical opinion now tends towards The Onion, The Daily Show and the wag(s) who have posited that we’re living, once again, in déjà vu: “The puppets have changed; the puppeteers have not.”

    For Alyssa, check out the Don’t Marry; Incorporate website–the plan to first keep the money in the home, then the state, then, last and least, the irresponsible, too-easy-to-rob federal treasury.

    For the foes of Amtrak, check out the european trains, notably the French Great Fastness Train and their new aluminum horses (now that chemin de iron is, um, passe). A 2-engine, 3-car TGV got up to something like 347 miles per hour (they normally poke along at 185 mph when they’ve got some station-to-station running room) and the Japanese magnetic levitation people-mover bested the wheels-on-rails TGV by less than 10 mph–something like 405 mph, or something like that.

    And for the foes of “honeybee insurance” or research, or whatever, I would ask that they at least set a minimum wage for the millions of us out-of-workers who will find new employment hand-pollinating every plant of: wheat, rice, oats, sorghum, corn, and every flower on every blueberry, raspberry, gooseberry, apple, banana, pineapple, fig, pear, peach, …(that is, pollinate all the flora that the honeybees will no longer be pollinating for us so we can eat).

    The good news is that we won’t have to pollinate the fauna by hand (although I suppose cattle breeders will continue to do so, anyway.).

    The bad news is that, once born, the fauna will have no flora to eat, either.

    Just think of the bees as a horseshoe nail: For want of a nail, a shoe was lost; for want of a shoe, a horse was lost; for want of a horse, a rider was lost; for want of a rider, the war was lost. (Or you could think of the buzz of a honeybee’s wings as the now proverbial, if not prosaic, flutter of the monarch’s wings that triggers the himicane or hurricane (depending on name, of course).

  • http://dontmarry-incorporate.blogspot.com/ Bill W.

    PS: I liked that Ingmar Bergmanesque silhouette shot of the illegal aliens working on a California construction job site, framing a house or something like.

  • http://n/a Robert G.

    This debate over fixing the economy will determine whether citizens can come together and face an economic crisis that George Soros this past weekend called worse than the Great Depression, and do so not merely as individuals, but as part of something whole. It will test what we are made of, civically and spiritually.

    I am not confident that the present debate is going to get us there. The individual ethos being what it is in America, we seem too afraid of taking on deep systemic reform. Leave it to the free hand of the market, we say. Let’s not interfere too much. That will suppress innovation. So therefore, as Mr. Reich suggested, battles over ideology have the economy forever cycling between Laizzez Faire and rules-based regulation. Each time, the compromise requires yet another compromise. Reform will always need further reform. We get so busy horse-trading, deep structural flaws get ignored.

    Take for example our healthcare crisis, just one of the many economic crises we now face, and which we’ve been debating ad nauseum for years. The number of Americans without health insurance keeps rising relentlessly, while citizens in industrialized countries the world over are covered. The cost of healthcare keeps skyrocketing, while other countries keep their costs down. It pressures businesses to lay off or not hire people to stay competitive. Why hasn’t the invisible hand fixed this problem? We always say it is too expensive. It seems it is too expensive not to fix.

    It’s high time we get past ideology, and take corporate lobbyist-driven corruption out of our political and economic systems. Americans are more ideological than any other industrialized nation in the world. Ideology drove the financial implosion on Wall Street that we have exported around the world. The world is sick and tired of us, our ideology, our militarism, our empire.

    One previous poster said unemployment is the #1 issue; that the stimulus plan needs to focus on job creation. I agree. Let me suggest that we raise the ante, and I think this is what Mr. Reich is getting at. We need to examine why our economy has lost so many jobs in the last thirty five years, examine why the greatest inequality and job insecurity since the 1930′s has occurred. While giving credit to Laizzez Faire for what it does well, we need to focus on what it does poorly and strangle that aspect of it in the bathtub.

    A truly responsible economic policy (we currently don’t have an economic policy) would assess the actual state of the economy, how our economy became so hollowed out, outsourced and off-shored, and then respond forcefully to change this situation. Anything else is mere tinkering, allows the smoke-and-mirrors economic status quo to continue, and will waste so much money waving a sword at a tidal wave.

    I’ll end with a quote from Chalmer’s Johnson in a piece penned today (TomDispatch.com), that cites all the industries we have lost in recent years:

    Like much of the rest of the world, Americans know that the U.S. automotive industry is in the grips of what may be a fatal decline. Unless it receives emergency financing and undergoes significant reform, it is undoubtedly headed for the graveyard in which many American industries are already buried, including those that made televisions and other consumer electronics, many types of scientific and medical equipment, machine tools, textiles, and much earth-moving equipment — and that’s to name only the most obvious candidates. They all lost their competitiveness to newly emerging economies that were able to outpace them in innovative design, price, quality, service, and fuel economy, among other things.

    A similar, if far less well known, crisis exists when it comes to the military-industrial complex. That crisis has its roots in the corrupt and deceitful practices that have long characterized the high command of the Armed Forces, civilian executives of the armaments industries, and Congressional opportunists and criminals looking for pork-barrel projects, defense installations for their districts, or even bribes for votes.

    Given our economic crisis, the estimated trillion dollars we spend each year on the military and its weaponry is simply unsustainable. Even if present fiscal constraints no longer existed, we would still have misspent too much of our tax revenues on too few, overly expensive, overly complex weapons systems that leave us ill-prepared to defend the country in a real military emergency. We face a double crisis at the Pentagon: we can no longer afford the pretense of being the Earth’s sole superpower, and we cannot afford to perpetuate a system in which the military-industrial complex makes its fortune off inferior, poorly designed weapons.

  • mike

    i got it jeffe, its all the unions fault, though it sicken me that some in the union make so and abuse the system, it is still needed, and will contiue to be,not all union members make a 14 percent increase per year,

    so i hope the tukey doesnt run around with his head cut off blaming all unions for the actions of a few

  • jeffe

    Mike in the case of the MBTA the union is a major problem.
    I never said I was anti union, if you read my post correctly you would see I said that. I don’t blame all unions, I’m only commenting on the fact that it’s absurd for a train driver to make 100k a year or more and that 14% a year increases is outrageous.

    For those advocating a high speed train, good luck our lines are so antiquated it would take years to even get close to the French. By the way the French trains are highly subsidized which is another issue. Countries such as Germany and France have been investing in rail transport for decades. We have not. It’s not cost effective and those huge desael
    engines are not exactly good for the environment.

  • http://canucwhatic.blogspot.com/ Roth

    Regarding the honeybees, Albert Einstein supposedly said this.

    “If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left.”

    Taken from Washington Post article, Honeybees in a Mite More Than Trouble: Parasites, an Exodus of Apiarists and Budget Cuts Imperil Vital Insect

  • Tim

    The framing of the questions in todays show highlights a large part of the problem we are in today. Until we, spend much less time in front of our big screen TV (throwing them away would be a good start) and until we, as individuals, start taking personal responsibility for this situation and get involved in the proccess, nothing meaningful will change. We are a nation who is waiting for “them” to fix it.

    Also, if we are asking the question, “should we rethink the whole nature of our economy?”, I’m wondering, do we want it to grow? Is that automatically a good thing? It would seem, given the state of our environment and the population, etc, that we might want to look at a steady state economy as an alternative.

  • http://NA Steve Adamson

    “If construction jobs go mainly to white males who already dominate the construction trades, many people who need jobs the most — women, minorities, and the poor and long-term unemployed — will be shut out.” -Robert Reich

    Dear Robert,

    Get a clue.

  • Anne McCanless

    What will you recommend to the inevitable “buy American” campaign that will probably start soon?

  • Matt

    I’m not an economist but the one thing I do know is that we all have it wrong. Most everything that has been mentioned really focuses on short-term fixes, even ideas that seem to be revolutionary are only short-term (years). We are just putting our finger in the dike.

    It will require a HUGE paradigm shift for Americans, businesses, the government and industries. Americans want their cake and eat it too, and we talk out of both sides of our mouth. We need to look in the mirror because WE ARE A BIG PART OF THE PROBLEM!! WE want/need the economy to turn around, WE want our investments to provide good returns on our money, and WE want unemployment to return to lower numbers and how does all that happen? To achieve profitable numbers companies need to reduce spending and lay people off, even companies that are profitable take “pro-active” action. That’s ok because when companies take this action the market rewards them with higher stock prices. Have you ever looked at the stock of a public company after they announce a layoff? Many times the stock goes up because that’s viewed as a good step to getting the business in-line with the changing market and an unknown economic future.

    Now we expect government to step in to extend benefits and spend in place of the consumer. What’s wrong with this picture? What about a paradigm shift that says, hey let’s stop the craziness. Let’s reward companies for hanging tough, for NOT reducing their workforce, for NOT reducing their spending. Even before this crisis how many companies have reported losses over the years, but are still around? How many companies could actually take a hit- maybe just reduced profit or even take on losses, and they could do so for a few years with minimal impact to the company? The problem with that is that THE MARKET would have their heads on a platter. BUT HEY-WE ARE THE MARKET!

    Some would say, this is a Wall Street problem………. Excuse me, WE ARE Wall Street! Sure the major financial companies are the ones that make the big trades that move the market, but THEY ARE US, our money rolls up to the Fidelities and other investment vehicles. Where was our out-cry on executive bonuses when times where good.

    Wouldn’t it be great if we could create a whole new set of economic indicators and corporate measurements that are used to describe how we “rate” and reward companies for doing what’s best long-term for the nation?

    Until Americans come to terms with the elephant in the room….. our need for “greed”, I hold little hope that we’ll see any long term change.

  • http://gather.com brennan m

    computerize the TRAINS, put all trucking and auto traffic on these trains….no gas / diesel! hell no road repair.
    sociologic solutions “post manifest destiny” can, will and must be our way of life, confusion animosity and ambiguity will wreck US.

    if “dust bowl oakies” are our FEAR… then genetics and superior embryo octuplits are THE GREATEST ULTIMATE COMMODITY. and we need to have this quality of immigrant

  • pw

    There’s a huge gap between those who want a stimulus plan that feeds their ideological needs (no matter how illogical), and those who have some understanding of the urgency of the situation and want the most effective investments of public money without delay. So let’s get off union, train, and bee bashing and spend the time we use to feed our prejudices to think instead about what’s best for the country. Huge paradigm shift? Darn right. It’s called “growing up.”

  • http://n/a Robert G.

    Dear Steve,

    May I call you Zeus?

    Because people who don’t think deeply, and who obviously don’t write well enough to express something that can be worked with, understood, debated, usually believe they know it all and can lord it over people from high above Olympus. They usually say things that do no more than produce an alley fight, like, “Get a Clue”. Your words my friend, not mine.

    But since you really don’t know it all and need to think much more deeply, I suggest you go to Robert Reich’s blog, and read his latest post titled: The real work begins after the stimulus plan is passed. Subsitute his words ‘public investment’ for my words ‘economic policy’, and you have essentially two posts that express roughly the same ideas about what ails the economy, and when they are not addressed sufficiently, they grow into bigger problems. Mr. Reich’s post takes up much more space than I wanted to in order to explain the historical context to the present crisis, which really began thirty five years ago.

    You know, we all can’t agree. But we can be gentlemen.

  • http://www.TheCommentDepot.com YEA!!!!!

    WOOHOO Media you did it! All of your negative talk about how bad the economy and housing market is for the last TWO years has finally SCREWED the economy big time! YaY you did it!!!! WOOT WOOT

  • Mark

    Dr. Reich started by saying that deficits caused by the proposed spending were not that large (my words not his). As a ratio of spending to GDP, the deficit today was smaller than after WWII. I may be overly suspicious, but I noted he didn’t say what what that ratio would be for budgets going forward. He made this observation when he was pushing for spending on his favorite projects.

    However, towards the end of the show when criticising other spending (not his projects), he was very critical of the size of the deficits and the long term implications.

    I would love to know how big our deficits are projected to be compared to GDP and how much (to Dr. Reich’s point) we have to grow to start shrinking the national debt. My guess is that is not realistic for a long time.

    But I would also like to find someone who doesn’t spin the facts. Imagine what he says in a classroom.

  • Steve

    Pres.Barak Obama doesn’t know any more about the economy than you or I. Mr. Obama is a lawyer who got elected President. The government doesn’t have a clue. When has the US Government, or ANY government EVER sucessfully fixed an economy?!!! Answer: NOT ONCE EVER IN THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF MANKIND! These knucleheads haven”t got the sense God gave a common goose.

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