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Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few Paperback – May 3, 2016
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A Publishers Weekly Business & Economics Top 10 selection for Fall 2015
"Ambitious. . . . Reich makes a very good case that widening inequality largely reflects political decisions that could have gone in very different directions. . . . Saving Capitalism is a very good guide to the state we’re in." —The New York Review of Books
“If you want to understand why income and wealth inequality are the economic, political, and moral issues of our time, you must read this book. Robert Reich is one of the best economists in modern American history. This book is a roadmap on how to rebuild the middle class and fix a rigged economy that has been propped up by a corrupt campaign finance system.” —United States Senator Bernie Sanders
“[A] sweeping treatise on inequality in America. . . . A rallying call.” —The New York Times Book Review
“One of Reich’s finest works, and is required reading for anyone who has hope that a capitalist system can indeed work for the many, and not just the few.” —Salon
“Like any good teacher, Robert Reich knows that making a simple yet crucial idea stick often takes much time and many presentations of the concept. . . . In Saving Capitalism, Reich drives home a basic fact that, if widely understood, could lift America from today’s destructive political standoff.” —Chicago Tribune
“A well-written, thought-provoking book by one of America’s leading economic thinkers and progressive champions.” —The Huffington Post
“Engrossing. . . . [Reich] is calmly articulate, not alarmist; yet a sense of urgency pulses through his unambiguous prose.” —The Argonaut (Los Angeles)
“Audacious. . . . Offers a pragmatic reform-filled path forward. . . . [Reich takes] on the very language used by the business world that perpetuates the myth that the private sector exists as magical sphere entirely unrelated to government.” —EcoWatch
“Reich has both the stature and eloquence to make a compelling case. His sharply argued critique is therefore highly recommended to all readers. . . . Insightful.” —Library Journal (starred review)
“An arresting, thought-provoking treatise on the need to reverse the trend of income inequality in the U.S. . . . Reich’s powerful final argument is that Americans need to rid themselves of the idea that it’s too late to change their economy.” —Publishers Weekly
“An accessible examination of how the ‘apparent arbitrariness and unfairness of the economy [has] undermined the public’s faith in its basic tenets’. . . . The author takes a measured view even as he argues against free market orthodoxies, [and] he arrives at some innovative reforms. . . . Reich’s overriding message is that we don’t have to put up with things as they are. It’s a useful and necessary one.” —Kirkus Reviews
“This is an important and provocative book about the erosion of America’s middle class by one of the nation’s most astute and passionate social critics. Reich provides an original and compelling analysis of how the rules governing America’s form of capitalism have contributed to growing income inequality and of how these rules have been distorted by the role of money in the U.S. political system.” —Laura D’Andrea Tyson
“Robert Reich has written a riveting guide to how our economic and political system has become so badly flawed, distorted by pervasive rent seeking and monopolies. He explains our rising inequality and our poor economic performance. Wholesale reform is needed—far beyond the usual prescriptions of raising the minimum wage and spending more money on education.” —Joseph Stiglitz
“Robert Reich sets the terms for new and more productive debates by rediscovering the political roots of the economic arrangements we too often take for granted. Everyone concerned with our economic future will need to grapple with Reich’s arguments in 2016 and beyond.” —Lawrence H. Summers
About the Author
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After an introductory chapter, Reich spends the first five chapters explaining each of the building blocks of the market and how those can be manipulated to either protect and support the majority of the people or to promote the interests of the powerful few. What types of things can be owned and how is that ownership allocated? Tangible goods may be obvious but what about intangible things like intellectual property, large platforms like the internet or cable, or even labor? Furthermore, what share of any particular market is it okay for any individual or corporation to own? What kinds of contracts can be made, especially in situations in which the parties to a contract may not have equal power? When a party to a contract cannot fulfill it, what protection does such party have? What rights does the creditor have? And when these issues end up in court, how are they decided?
In the period after World War II until the 1970s or so, Reich demonstrates how these building blocks were used to protect jobs, health, the environment and the rights and interests of ordinary Americans. But since the 1980s and the rise of “supply sided economics”, and especially since the Citizens United Supreme Court decision earlier this decade, large corporations and powerful individuals have used their influence to encourage elected officials to create laws and policies that favor the interests of the powerful. For instance, he describes at length the patent process and how Big Pharma and others have lobbied to extend patents nearly indefinitely, and how Big Pharma has even paid generic drug companies to delay releasing generic drugs even after the patent has finally expired, which forces Americans to pay very high prices for drugs available much cheaper elsewhere (and Big Pharma has lobbied to restrict Americans from buying such cheaper drugs from foreign pharmacies over the internet). As another example, customers and employees are often forced to sign contracts mandating that disputes be arbitrated by an arbitrator of the company’s choosing (which said arbitrator is most likely to favor the company that is paying them over the customer or employee). Reich gives dozens of other examples of how the “free” market is rigged against ordinary Americans and it’s done intentionally by powerful individuals and corporations exerting their influence on the government in order to create the market in their favor. He demonstrates how these rules and policies redistribute wealth upward as the market works. Talk of “redistribution” of wealth through taxes (generally thought to be “socialist” is a non-starter because the wealth is already redistributed before the fact.
Reich goes on to explore and explode the myth of “meritocracy” – the idea that we all “earn” what we “deserve” in the market. Reich points out that that is obviously true in a tautological sense. We get what we get because we can’t get more. But from the working poor to the non-working rich, he demonstrates the fallacies that lie behind such thinking. He looks at how, in the past, the value of labor itself has often been considered to provide a stake in the final output and income of the company itself. After all, no goods or services would be provided without the people who do the work. But over the last few decades, only those providing the capital are viewed as stakeholders, so labor, consumers, and society as a whole loses out.
For these reasons I recommend the book to every American to get a clear understanding of the distortion of the “free market” propaganda. But that’s not to say that the book doesn’t have its flaws. For one thing, Reich relies rather heavily on the passive voice. While he does make it clear that these laws and policies have been implemented intentionally at the behest of the powerful few, he denies that these powerful few have any moral culpability. They are just acting on their own self-interest, the same as you and I. I’m sorry, but no. My taking a job, for instance, in which I know that other candidates lost out because I succeeded, is not at all the same as, for instance, repealing the laws that protected commercial banking funds from risky investment and speculation so that big bankers can gamble with federally-protected savings accounts. Most of us consider the needs of other people as we go about doing the best to provide for ourselves and our families. Most of us don’t feel the need to reduce food stamps and take money out of poor people’s mouths just so that we could make another couple million. In fact, there’s a reason why most of us are not multi-millionaires or billionaires – we’re simply not ruthless enough.
Secondly (and relatedly) Reich doesn’t talk nearly enough about the mechanisms of this influence. He talks a lot about “lobbying”, but he really doesn’t explore what that word means. When I was in high school civics, we learned that lobbying is simply talking or writing to your elected official to try to convince him or her of your point of view and get his/her vote in your favor. But if that’s all it is, why do companies suddenly have so much more influence that ordinary citizens, especially considering how many more of us there are? So the guy from Monsanto is just that much more persuasive than Farmer Joe from Kansas? Or is there something more behind Monsanto’s persuasiveness that Farmer Joe doesn’t have access to? Sure, Monsanto can afford to hire people to do nothing but talk to Congressmen, while Farmer Joe is busy planting, tilling and harvesting his fields. Reich does talk about campaign contributions and promises of lucrative jobs post-government service, but he really needs to go into much more depth.
He could also stand to talk in depth about the media. The major media, including print and broadcast services, are almost entirely owned by six media corporations. Reich does cover this a tiny bit in his section on monopoly, but the implications are staggering. In addition to the money pouring into politician’s campaign coffers, citizens are hampered by a lack of information. There is almost a complete media black-out on certain aspects of how the government is run, unless one spends one’s time scouring blogs and alternate media. The media also control the range of “acceptable” opinions – anything outside that range is the lunatic fringe. For example, should we invade XYZ Muslim country with boots on the ground, or should we contain the situation with drones and special ops? Not getting involved at all is crazy talk. Should we bail out the banks or not? Bailing out the people and letting the banks fail is crazy talk.
Reich’s final chapters address his solutions for the ills he lays out in the majority of the book. Most such solutions are simply repealing the bad laws and policies that have been enacted as he’s explained earlier in the book. Get rid of Citizen’s United. Outlaw the revolving door between government service and the corporate world. Reduce patent lengths. Outlaw pay-for-delay. Etc. Reich seems to believe that such moves are completely possible. I’d like to believe him. With an informed and energetic citizenry, I think he would be right. But one of the most impressive aspects of the neoliberal takeover has been the containment of the populace. We as a nation are either so busy making ends meet or so distracted by games and gadgets, that we’ve willingly allowed a corporate coup under our very noses. More and more people are waking up and realizing what’s happening, but at the same time we have less and less voice. Our survival will depend upon not getting sidetracked by the liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican narrative and coming together as citizens of a nation that are all in it together, whether we want to be or not. But the same people who control our government and the media (and, more and more, education) benefit from these false fights and will stir them up as long as they can. I’m not sure I have faith in the American people to see past the propaganda.
I will say again that I salute Reich for writing such a clear and cogent explanation of the fallacies of the “government vs. free market” debate. Again, every American should read this book. My criticisms are just my wishing that he’d taken his arguments just a bit further, and such criticisms are, perhaps, just a bit unfair – like criticizing the receiver who returned a kick-off for ninety yards, but didn’t quite make it the last couple yards for a touchdown. Reich’s voice is especially important now as we head into the primaries for the 2016 elections. Reich does list a few criticisms of the Bill Clinton administration in which he served and what he wishes would have been done differently. I hope he’ll loudly raise those same criticisms as Hillary campaigns for the Democratic nomination.
capitalismHowever, there’s not a lot of humor in Saving Capitalism, Reich’s fifteenth book. In this brilliant long essay, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor takes on the economic issues of the day from a perspective that rarely comes to light in public discourse: he rejects the widespread assumption that a “free market” exists independent of government.
“A market — any market — requires that government make and enforce the rules of the game,” Reich writes. The size of government, the preoccupation of the American Right for the past four decades, is a distraction from the reality that big corporations and the country’s wealthiest people have steadily rigged the rules that structure the economy — through lobbying, massive political contributions, and the courts. Society’s biggest challenge today, inequality in wealth and income, was the inevitable result of the steady shift of power to the “1%” from the rest of us, as Occupy Wall Street so famously pointed out. “The critical debate for the future is not about the size of government,” Reich adds; “it is about whom government is for.” This is a view of American society from 30,000 feet.
Reich cites a study by two scholars who set out to gauge “the relative influence . . . of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups, and average citizens.” The study concluded, “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.” In other words, everything you ever feared about the influence of the 1% is true.
As Reich explains in a particularly enlightening chapter, “The Decline of Countervailing Power,” the principal reason why Wall Street, the corporations, and the superrich have managed to enrich themselves at the expense of the middle class and the working poor is that the counterweight to what we call the 1% today has steadily withered away since the 1970s. Reich refers to the “interest groups and membership organizations — clubs, associations, political parties, and trade unions — to which politicians were [once] responsive.”
The most potent of these factors was, of course, the labor movement. Following World War II, labor stood toe-to-toe with Big Business when it came to employees’ wages and working conditions and wielded huge influence in Washington. As we’re so painfully aware, that is far from the case today — but the decline of organized labor didn’t happen by accident. It was engineered beginning in the early 1970s by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers, and their Republican allies, working from the top down through the courts, the Congress, and state governments across the country. Reich doesn’t tell this story, perhaps because it’s so well known.
Saving Capitalism should be required reading for every American who wishes to understand the way our society works today. Unfortunately, though the book has already begun to climb on the bestseller lists, we can be sure that will never happen in an era when a megalomaniacal reality TV star is topping the polls in the Republican presidential primary competition.
Robert B. Reich served three presidents — Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton — in the course of a long and distinguished career in academia and government. Currently he is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.
Top international reviews
For people without an economics background this book provides a relatively simple description, with relevant model examples, of these cases, and a limited number of solutions. If i'm . honest from what i hear, a lot of his other books seem to describe exactly the same thing, so i'm going to be cautious in choosing to buy any of his future books.
Reich is hugely informative and you might find yourself going to a dictionary more than a few occasions to really grasp some of the more intricate language but Reich is not a difficult read. He is challenging and at times the corruption of the markets during the global crash of 2008 is a tough read, but Reich is honest and truthful in his stories and beliefs in Capitalism.
If anything this book is worth more of a read is you are more inclined towards Socialism but want a fair and balanced view of both economic principles. Reich is a lefty, but a real believer in Capitalist values.
The book is well written, and though simple, its main idea is interesting and probably new to most people. It starts by presenting the five pillars of capitalism, in a reader-friendly theoretical introduction; moving on to what's been reshaping those pillars in the recent decades, the consequences of such reshaping, and what can be made to restore countervailing powers that have been eliminated and contributo to inequality.
This is not a book on socialism, but on fairer capitalism. Although you may not agree with everything in the book (I didn't), it is worth reading as it opens your eyes to the realities of capitalist free markets from someone who has seen it at high-level (Robert was Secretary of Labour previously).
Clear explanation of the state of and threats to the middle class, and importantly why that matters
It gives a a realistic assessment of capitalism in the U.S.
I bought the book because the video made on it and circulated by YouTube was interesting and I though I could find many examples. But if the video was very lively and I thought I could find more examples of how bad is the capitalist system to write on the capitalist system.
But the book contains too few examples which are not told in a lively manner. So many other author denounce correctly the capitalist system.
The author is trying to save the US capitalism with measures that are impossible to apply because the capitalists are caught in a terrible machine that will destroy them. It is absolutely impossible to save capitalism. The only solution is socialist revolution. The capitalists are switching therefore from bourgeois so-called democracy to blunt, violent, destructive fascist dictatorship in the US and to constant war everywhere else and they will collapse like the Roman empire dit, putting and end to Ancient slavery and bringing to existence feudalism. This time it is the capitalist system that willl collapse and socialism that will develop. China and Russia will develop as capitalist powers until they collapse too.