tv Tavis Smiley PBS September 18, 2012 2:30pm-3:00pm PDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with journalists hedrick smith. the book explores the economic and social amrallies that put the dream out of reach. and what we can learn from auto icon henry ford. that conversation coming up right now. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out.
>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: hedrick smith spent more than 25 years at the "the new york times" covering six presidents and callous world conflicts. he is an emmy-winning tv producer. his new text is called "who stole the american dream?" >> i am delighted to be here. >tavis: you argue that the
american people are more concerned about the divide between the rich and poor, more concerned about that than age, race, ethnicity. what happened? >> the middle class had a good life in america. especially when the civil rights battle was going on. we had an era of middle-class prosperity and power and those things go together. civic activism and power influencing washington make sure the economy and the government work to produce prosperity and what do we have today? we have polarized politics instead of working bipartisanship. we have gaping inequality in our economy. enormous wealth concentrated. citibank itself said at one point that the concentration of wealth in america looks like 16th century spain. that is a banana republic kind of thing. the middle class stock in the mud. people know that. it is interesting watching the
campaign. there is a veneer in the campaign. people since there is something profoundly m.s. in america. the dialogue and the campaign -- they know that we're/power and ideology. >> where the missing that? >> -- why are they missing that? >> too risky and no one wants to take the risk. no one wants to the media dances around it. we're not getting the hard truth. if you start talking politics to someone on the bus or the train or the plane, you risk getting a certain volcanic reaction. people are angry at congress for gridlock. they're angry at the banks for causing the collapse and taking a bailout, making profits and not helping homeowners out. they're angry at the system and frustrated. they do not know where to turn.
i have to tell you, i covered a lot of this stuff as the washington bureau chief of "the new york times" in the 1970's and 1980's. i started to dig into history, i learned so much, i did not believe how much i missed. you understand that there are long-term trends at work here since the late 1970's. in the economy and politics that have put this in the predicament we're in today. we're not going to get a smart fix in this country unless we understand the roots of our problems and i do not think the campaign is doing that at all. tavis: do your -- to your point, what advice would you offer to journalists in now? i fret that 20 or 30 years from now, there will be journalists covering this moment of economic collapse that will look back as you have done on your career and see the mist a lot of stuff.
what advice do you have about journalists and not missing the key details. as brilliant as you were, how did you miss stuff? >> it will happen. you cannot avoid it. one thing you can do is keep part of your reportorial staff and not chase the daily events. let them go back home. let's take a look and see what happened. how did this develop? the current crisis in the middle east, where did this come from? it came from abu ghraib, it came from what happened in afghanistan, a lot of other things. you need to have people free to do that. part of that is history has hit in beginnings. you do not get a mushroom cloud all the time telling you, boom. you have gone into a new era. sometimes you slide into a new era and you recognize that you have crossed the watershed after you're on the other side. one of the big stories in this and i do not think -- i have talked about it a few days ago,
a lot of washington correspondent and a missed it and they did not know it. lewis powell is a guy we associate with the supreme court. a famous corporate attorney, former head of the american bar association. he served for 17 years and he was known as a quiet presence, a modest man. lois paul was -- louis powell had a major impact on the stealing of the american dream. i discovered it in the last couple of years. what he did was he wrote a memorandum to the u.s. chamber of commerce and said american industry, the free enterprise system is under assault from the labor union movement. from ralph nader and the consumer movement. from a salt from regulatory agencies from the environmental
protection agency. a lot of agencies, agencies that were set up by richard nixon. the republican president that regarded himself as a friend of industry and loved to hobnob with the captains of industry and poll said they have to go fight and industry -- get organized. they have to play hard ball aggressively and that is what happened. the chamber of commerce circulated the polls memorandum as it is known to business leaders all over the country. the business roundtable, the most powerful force for major corporations in america was formed. the national association of manufacturers moved its headquarters to washington. the national federation of independent businesses clip from 3000 members in 1971 yo 600,000 by 1980. business developed all this muscle. business had 18,000 registered
lobbyists and pr people. 50,000 people working for their trade associations in washington. they rolled back the agenda and beats labor and beat rafa nader andnd -- -ralph jimmy carter. i saw those individual episodes take place. i saw ralph nader's push for a consumer protective agency get beaten, i saw labor get beaten. i saw carter get roy blunt taxes but i did not fully understand what were the forces that were at work. i did not know, for example that 1971, there were 100 some five corporations that had lobbying offices in washington. by 1978, 1979, there were over 2000. an explosion of political
activity. we're used to looking at political parties. we have a better system of reporting economic contributions to campaigns. we did not have a good system back then. it was hard to follow. it is easier to fall now. this stuff happened underground. it was subterranean and we were not pay attention. we did not get what was going on. >tavis: you might not as a reporter have connected all those dots at the time. but it was clear that the media stopped covering the labor movement. it stopped covering labor issues. it stopped covering the american worker the way that it did business. you go to "the new york times", i read it every day but there is no more labor page. or in any major newspaper anymore. you have business pages in all the major pages -- papers. you have the gluttony of
business magazines on the newsstand. how do the issues that matter every day get raise anyway if "the new york times" does not deem it important enough to give it a page the way it does business? >> that is a good question. we have gotten so used to the importance of business and industry and its political agenda, it is part of it. they have pushed for it. the wall street banks are constantly talking. tavis: i am not mad at them. at them for pushing their agenda. what i am suggesting is, it is the media's responsibility to cover both sides of this issue and they have acquiesced to such a point that we get the business side, never the worker's side. i am not mad at business. >> part of what has happened is the media has continued to treat those as equals. we talk in the media as if labor and management, if you have
campaign finance reform were citizens united, that is a decision from the supreme court and it allows corporations to do what they want in terms of spending political money and it allows trade unions to do the same thing. we do not have an equal playing field. let me just take lobbying. you had a stimulus package and a health care package and financial regulatory reform. three big pieces of legislation with all kinds of goodies and baddies. it was a booming business while the economy was going to hell. business outspent labor 65-1 on lobbying. that is why they keep getting more space. you do not blame them but they are in your face. they're constantly talking to media and they have that many more people. the labor movement has shrunk from 28% to the -- of the work
force to 7% or 8%. there is a tendency to say there was up -- it was up to them. we do not call the balls and strikes. is that this situation, you can have your own opinions or policies but you cannot have your own facts. if you look at the facts here, from the end of world war ii to the end of the 1970's, middle- class americans, average americans got their share of american prosperity. the productivity of the american workforce doubled and the average hourly pay of the average worker in america virtually doubled during that time. -- 1973-o from 1970's 2011, the average hourly pay went up 7%.
with benefits, 10%. average americans not getting their share. you do get that in the media when the census bureau reports as they did last week that the middle class is getting a smaller share of the income and the top 1%, the top 5% are getting more but you do not get much regular coverage of that. "the new york times" had a series of stories. it was about people who were dropping out. digging down and trying to understand what happened and how that happened is not being explained. that is what will make a difference. people understand that. they got caught out of it. this idea that you cannot afford to pay workers more or your company will go out of business, let's look at germany. germany is doing it. they have been increasing pay
and they have done well on the international market. they have trade surpluses. they have 21% in manufacturing. we have 9%. when you're talking about the pages, i am less worried about the pages that i am about the content. the story is not out there. we're getting the story day in and day out. we just had the caterpillar strike. they froze wages at a time when the company was making rec products. -- record products. tavis: ceo pay has risen so they have money to pay the ceo's but not the workers. i am digressing. let's talk about your book. and that is civic engagement, it is directly linked to power which is directly linked to etc. i wonder if the middle class
got too comfortable in the sense that as we started having access to more and making more and feeling more comfortable, all that social activism and civic engagement got pushed to the side. the voter turnout in this country is abysmal compared to other countries but talk to me about what you mean when you say civic engagement and whether or not our comfort has led us to be a bit lazy politically. >> i think that is part of it. it is comfort and fear. people have been intimidated. the business of offshore and jobs, i cannot believe the trade union has accepted that caterpillar deal but caterpillar says you do not do it, we will make these things in malaysia or china. you will lose your jobs entirely. part of it is fear. that is the last couple of decades. you may be right about the comfort. their movements were successful. the consumer movement, the women's movement did not get all that it wanted but it did get
quite a bit. the environmental movement, a slew of laws got push through even by republicans who are not necessarily tree-hugging environmentalists like richard nixon. labour gained a lot and they got to duwaik bid by bit. part of it is divide and conquer. the old imperial list game of divide and conquer. you shut down a plant here and people say that is too bad. that plant in ohio got shot down. at least we're still in business. that other plant got shut down ntc that is not good but at least we're still in business. you get shut down and you see this is terrible but i have savings and i will hustle. tavis: that raises the question as to whether or not the american dream was stolen, whether labor and others surrendered it. those are two different things. >> it is part of it. i did not start with that title. i started it with "the dream at
risk." as i dug into it i concluded it was stolen. the reason i concluded it was stolen was this. we told you about lois paul -- lewis powell. a lot of policies have been much more pro-business. tax rates have come down. the payroll tax, everyone has to pay, it has bdoubled while the top tax rates are coming down. that happened because people have power and who could afford to lobby. they pushed the legislation that way. that is one stealing. the other is the business we talked about, about caterpillar. it is ge under jack wells, sunbeam, a lot of companies where the ceo said we will take more for ourselves and pay more to the stockholders and not pay as much to the workers. you have within the last couple of years, people have been
saying you cannot tax the rich more because they are the job creators. the job creators are the middle class. it is consumer demand that generates jobs. not the people at the top. tavis: you are making my point. on the one hand, we the american people have been victimized here by this process. there is another argument that we have been volunteers. it is part by not pushing back and electing the right people. >> ernie cortez, great organizers in the sunbelt. he has a great insight. he said, not only does power corrupt, powerlessness corrupt. a corrupt democracy at the very core. people in the 1960's in the environmental movement and the civil rights movement, in the conservative -- consumer movement, the labor and the peace movement, they believed if
they got angry enough and got active enough and mobilized enough, they could go out and push washington and guess what? believe it or not, washington listened. they got a lot done. part of it dissipated because in some ways there were so successful. people assumed once the legislation was there, once the vietnam war was over, defense spending would go down. it is much higher now than it was under vietnam. part of it is parcouch potatoes. we're sitting back county on someone else to do it. as long as you are talking about them doing it, as long as the pronoun that is going to take action is they cannot week, nothing will happen. tavis: this has to do with people feeling helpless, hopeless given the relatively weak choices they have had. you know what i mean by that. if your argument is in this election that we face is that obama is better than romney, you
are not going to push obama because you do not want romney to get in. how much does this have to do with people being not willing to fight with their friends? >> the point is people are to focus -- too focused on elections. the point was he went beyond elections. part of the problem is people assume if they elect, they elected a democratic pr president and congress and the president could not done -- get done as much as he needed. the public is not engaged. that is what i am talking about. the environmental movement did not care if it was richard nixon or a democrat. they thought it was not tolerable and they got out there. tavis: that is my point. you close this book with 10
really good ideas to turn this around. give me a couple of them. >> we were talking about the most important one, civic engagement. the issues are clear. jobs, fairness, and housing. one of the most outrageous things is the banks got $700 billion of bailout and they're back making profits. the ceo and top people are making enormous bonuses and they will not bail out 20 million homeowners who are stuck in houses that are under water, that are worth less than their loans but they are paying off, religiously paying off the 9% loans? if they could get 3.5% loans, there would be better off and the economy would be better off because it would free of that money that they're putting into the houses and that its profits for the nks. this is the virtual circle of growth. hire people, pay them well, the consumer demand, that pushes business to expand.
they expand their plant. we have dismantled that dynamic in our economy. one way to get it going again would be to require the banks to do for ordinary people what we the taxpayers did for the banks. bail them out, get them into new loans, at lower rates, put hundreds of billions of dollars of consumer spending power into the economy. it is easy to come up with ideas. the problem is, the obstruction in congress. filibusters in the senate killed 70% of the legislation. people are confused and do not understand what the causes of their problems are. which is why i wrote this book. i did not know. i started with a bunch of questions. i think i have come up with some pretty good answers. i am probably wrong on some points but i am better off than i was when i started the research. tavis: are you hopeful at this point now that you have discovered all this? >> yes and no. it is really hard. you know, abraham lincoln said,
a house divided cannot stand. we are/money and power. we have stopped thinking of america as a family. the last politician was mario cuomo. we're in this together. we have a bunch of multinational corporations and they no longer tied their success, their profits, their personal lives to america anymore. bring it back home. another good thing we could do is change the tax system on corporations, lower the taxes that hire and do their business in america and close the loophole on the corporations that move their production overseas. they get a tax break. they get a tax break for moving jobs offshore. is that stupid or not? i cannot believe it. that is something -- people should march on the street about having a more sensible tax system. we ought to put the heat on congress to say it is impossible for people who are opposed to
raising taxes and making the system more -- improving the system. it does not matter who gets elected if we do not start addressing these issues. we will be in the same area. we will be better off in one instance and worse off in another but i am not here to push one candidate or another. i am here to do with the fundamental problems that are ripping this country apart. tavis: the book is called "who stole the american dream?" written by hedrick smith, 25 years at "the new york times", part of that as washington chief. thank you for the tax. >> good to have you. tavis: that is our show. you can download the new app. from los angeles, thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org.
tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with dwight yoakam on his new studio element out in six years. >> there is a saying that dr. king had that said there is always the right time to do the right thing. i try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. we know that we are only halfway to completely eliminating hunger and we have work to do. walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the u.s. as we work together, we can stamp hunger out. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.