tv Robert Reich The Common Good CSPAN March 18, 2018 7:00pm-8:05pm EDT
[inaudible conversations] >> good evening everyone. good evening everyone. [applause] thank you for joining us this evening. my name is megan and on behalf of harvard bookstore, i am pleased to welcome you to this evening's event. we will discuss the new book, the common good. the busy spring event series is in full spring. in the coming weeks, we will have several authors.
to learn more about these events, visit online at harvard.com and sign up for our weekly e-mail newsletter. tonight's talk will conclude with questions and answers from the audience. form online at this microphone in the center aisle and we will get to as many questions as time allows. we are pleased to have cspan book tv taping tonight's event. when asking questions, please know you will be recorded. when the questions conclude we will wrap around the back of the hall. those joining from the center aisle or the aisle to my left will proceed to the back of the hall to join the line. additionally because we have a full house, please keep your seat until invited to join the signing. you will be able to purchase copies of the common good at this table to the right.
tonight's featured title is 20% off which is how we say thank you for buying books from harvard bookstore. your purchase helps support the future of an independent bookstore. finally, a quick reminder to silence your cell phone. he has written numerous books including the work of nations which has been translated in 22 languages as well as bestsellers saving capitalism, super capitalism and locked in the cabinet. his articles have appeared in the new yorker, the atlantic, the new york times and the wall street journal among others pretty is chair of the national governing board of common cause, cocreator of the documentary inequality for all and his later documentary is streaming now on netflix.
he will be discussing his latest book, the common good. they call it a well written essay. booklist rights complete with an enticing list of reading and discussion listed to the finding and empowering call for revitalize civic awareness. we are so pleased to host this event. please join me in welcoming robert. [applause] >> thank you. [applause]
who got us back to questions of individual responsibility and opportunity and george w. bush got us talking about the american foreign-policy, the basics of what we expect and how american power are to be used. donald trump has got us talking about tierney and democracy. i mean that quite sincerely. many of you understand the basic phenomenon with regard to human nature and that is that very often we don't appreciate something until it's gone or we don't really value something until it's endangered or it might be disappearing. i think that's the case with democracy and this book that i wrote for the common good and i'll try to explain what that
means but many of us took a lot for granted and don't get me wrong i don't think donald trump is the cause of the problems we are having, i think he is the consequence, the symptom, the combination of decades in which we have neglected the common good neglected the basis of our society, in ways that have invited donald trump. we used to call it the social contract. the social contract exists in any organization, even here in
this lovely space, there is a social contract of sorts, you understand the norms for their unspoken. yours must be quiet and i'm supposed to speak and you're supposed to be tolerance and sensitive to the people around you and you're not supposed to belch or far too loudly and before you leave your not supposed to take a crayon and write on the walls. there's basic things that you don't have to be told but here's the point that connects this to the common good. there's so many things that are not written down about what we know each other as members of the same society that we took for granted, but when the common good starchy roving, as it has very clearly eroded over the past year or
so, people start saying things like i didn't know anybody could get away with that or i didn't know that was even possible, or who imagined that would happen. it's not shock when those norms are violated that we are witnessing. but again, the undermining has been happening for a very, very long time. i don't know, and i can't tell because i can't see all of you, i don't know how many of you are my age or older. i am eyeballing some of you, yes, actually more and more now that i see it. many of you will remember, i was 14 years old when i heard john f. kennedy at his inauguration, urged us to ask
not what american do for us but what we can do for america. i was inspired as many of you were by john f. kennedy. he wasn't with us very long but about seven years later i went to washington as an intern and i worked in his brothers senate office and i thought in some very small way , i was making america better. in fact, it was so small that i'm embarrassed to tell you what i was doing. i was actually in charge of the signature machine. now, you have to understand, the signature machines had a very significant role to play. there were pens at the end of long wooden arms and they were automated or at least there was this little machining how to line up the paper, the stationary, those days there
were secretaries and those office that wrote and typed the letters to constituents and you had to line them up very carefully to make sure that when robert f kennedy exercised its own kind of motion, that you have blinded up. it was a job that took some skill and dexterity, but after a week, i was bored out of my mind and decided that although i did want to make a contribution to america, and i did feel like i was making a contribution, that i would amuse myself, i went in at night and i took some stationary, this is probably illegal and i may get arrested for, because it is no statute of limitations. in fact, anything can happen these days. i typed letters to my friends.
congratulations on having the largest nose in new york state, robert f kennedy. people still have, did i ever send you anything like that? >> i was at a book signing in new york a couple days ago and there he was, he showed me he still had it on his iphone, he actually had the signature and the letter, but one day i was standing in that building and out came robert f kennedy and i hadn't seen him, it was two months and i have not even seen the man i was working for and he turned to me and he said, his aides were all around him and it was very
exciting to see him and he said to me, he looked at me and he said how is this summer going, bob? he said bob. he knew my name. i just couldn't believe it. i couldn't respond i was so excited and i was inspired, also, because i think just him knowing my name, i thought if he had asked me too run his signature machines for the next six years i would have done that. it was an exciting time and those of you who remember those times, it was exciting because there is a sense that we were acting on our ideals. not that we were there, but we were trying to move the country toward our ideals and when i say we, i think there was a broad consensus, the democrats on the hill were working with the republicans. bobby kennedy was working with a lot of people on the other side of the aisle and there
were, already there had been a civil rights act and there are lots of things in the work, medicare and medicaid had already been enacted. the governmental protection act was coming. people had a sense there was a set of norms, a set of ideals that we had to achieve. if you read today's polls, the majority of americans worry that this nation has lost its identity, but let me tell you something, for those of you, certainly those of you who remember what i'm talking about, and many of you younger ones as well, our identity has never ever been about the color of our skin or our religion or english as a first language or the fact that we were born here. that is not american identity. american identity is about
ideals, about a set of ideals enshrined in the constitution, the bill of rights, the declaration of independence, but also places like gettysburg, lincoln's getting berg address. a government of the people, for the people, by the people. martin luther king i have a dream speech on the mall. people to be judged by the content of their character rather than the color of their skin. ideals about social justice, ideals about the fact that we were all interdependent. that is where we were and we knew those ideals required some sacrifice from all of us. it wasn't the kind of thin veneer that you hear about these days.
it was about coming together for the common good, making sacrifices. one of my best friends, somebody who when i was a kid he kept me away from the bullies. in 1964, he was down in mississippi, mickey schwerner protected me from the bullies and then in 1964 he was murdered after being tortured with two other civil rights workers in mississippi. that civil rights movement was also founded on idealism and founded on the notion of sacrifice for these common ideals. one way of looking at what happened is to say look, we had a prior generation, the greatest generation they went through the great depression,
they went through world war ii , they understand how interdependence implicitly and what happens. the baby boomers never had that experience directly. we never had that sense that we were all in the same vote together. 1946, they wonder why so many boomers, why did it start in 1946. the boomer generation, 76 million, why did we all begin, it's not that complicated. my father served in the second world war and he came home. and there was my mother. i mean similar for bill clinton and ken starr also born in 1946 and george w. bush and donald trump, all of
us born in 1946. dolly parton, share. without that direct experience of interdependence, maybe we lost something and maybe when we confront it as we did confront the vietnam war and watergate and several things that cracked the foundation of our faith in our institution, maybe that was the beginning of the end. i can tell you, though, when i went to washington to work for bobby kennedy, washington was a cd place. it wasn't filled with money. there were no beautiful
restaurants and rich places that were watering holes with heavy silverware and napkins. washington was, it had cockroaches, a lot of them, and when we went back in the 1970s to work at the federal trade commission, it was already changing. washington was already getting richer and richer. in the 1980s, something happened to the american corporation and american politics. i don't know that they were directly related, but they are important in terms of understanding this precedents to donald trump because the american corporation we had the phenomenon of the corporate raiders, people who took out big loans, we call that junk loans, junk debt and used it to purchase companies
and made companies forget they had responsibilities to their employees as well as their shareholders. in fact, i don't know how many of you recall the raiders, i used to argue with them on television and i said no, you don't want to do this pretty can't just take over corporation and fire people and bust unions. i said that's not right. they said but it's efficient and that was the end of the argument. turns out a lot of communities were hollowed out. a lot of jobs were lost.
what we had was the beginning of a great deluge of money, even in the democratic party, how many of you remember tony cueto? two people, give me for people. tony cueto was head of the democratic campaign committee in the 1980s. he decided that rather than have all of wall street and big corporations contribute money to republicans, since, according to tomm tony, democrats owned them and he said it would be better to drink at the same trough as republicans and corporations and tell them they can get a better deal and that was a faustian bargain because it was harder after that to bite
the hand that fed you if you are a democrat, and at the same time those corporations that were focused solely on shareholder returns, those companies were beginning to get politically more and more and more powerful. bending the rules of the game to make themselves more profitable. at the same time, some very wealthy people were doing the same thing. i became secretary of labor. i should back up a little bit to tell you some background. bill clinton and i and hillary rodham, we all went to law school together. not harvard law school, the other law school and we were all in the same class, and clarence thomas was in the
same class and we would all be in the same class. there was a class on civil and clinical rights. we were all there and whenever he has a question, they have a socratic method in whatever he asked a question, hillary would have her first hand in the air and she always got it exactly right when she was called on. i was the second or third hand in the air and i may be 20% of the time got it right. clarence thomas never talked. [laughter] bill clinton never attended class. [laughter] personalities are developed pretty early on. years later bill clinton asked me when he was elected president, and i told my class under no circumstances will i leave the class because i
really felt i had an obligation to teach a class that fall, but bill clinton called and said i really need to have you come down here, i was just elected president. i said congratulations. he said i need you to come down here and run my economic transition team. i didn't know what an economic transition team was but i said okay and i apologize to the class, went down to washington and discovered it was much harder to do anything that i had run on then i assumed it would be. he had run on a platform of putting people first, investing in education and job training and infrastructure and research and development and the notion was if you made those public investments you could grow the economy. i still think that's right. it was very hard to do. wall street and the bond
traders were very frightened of deficits. remember those days when republicans, the republican party actually, believe it or not, actually used to talk about debt and deficits and make a big deal and they made it very difficult for us. democrats who said and who were in washington and said you can't spend that kind of money. here's the thing, i began to notice and i began to look at the data about what was happening to wages, median wages. you all understand the difference between average and median, right? shakeel oh neil and the basketball player have an average height of 6-foot
1 inches. [laughter] the reason you want to talk about median is because averages always distort the picture. they bring up what's really going on and make you think things are better than they are. the median is a much better guide, half above and half below. what i saw, during that economic transition, when i was looking at the data is that median wages, since the late 70s an early '80s had not been adjusted at all for inflation and this was something of a surprise to me and to the economists who were working on the economic transition because, you see, the economy kept on going up. it kept on growing. it was growing at about the same rate it was growing between 1946 and the end of the 70s, and yet wages had stopped growing. wages were flattening. where did all the money go?
every time i asked this question, people accuse me of being a class warrior. i'm not a class warrior, i'm a class warrior. there's a difference. i started talking about this in the economic transition pad we have one more wealth going to the very top. this is a problem. people around me said yes and pass the ketchup. there wasn't a sense of crisis , and it wasn't a crisis, but certainly every time i went out to the rustbelt and the secretary of labor, i had to do that a lot. if you are secretary of state
or even transportation, you might go to the far corners of the world to paris and london and peking or beijing or wherever you were going. no, i went to cleveland and toledo and buffalo but they were not glamorous centers of world commerce but they were places that were being left behind. they were being left behind, because those corporations began focusing only on shareholder returns and on rigging the game, more and more money pouring into washington to get laws and regulations that help them but didn't do anything for most people, while most people with flat wages started to get a little bit angry. i started to pick up that anger in the 1990s. people were just irritated, frustrated. not getting ahead. they thought they were doing everything right and they were not getting ahead.
>> but we are trying to decide between two people bernie sanders and donald trump. [laughter] and i said what? [laughter] first of all these two people are on opposite sides of the world on different planets how could you be thinking what i got back from them over and over one of these people will really shake things up the game is rigged. it is rigged against me the
so-called leaders have turned their backs on me and i want somebody who will listen. and as i watched that campaign unfold and saw donald trump emerge miraculously, amy and, i don't have to tell you. [laughter] but then just as miraculously i have known bernie sanders for years but that he is old and not even a democrat and from vermont and a socialist. [laughter] how do you make that into a major democratic candidate? but yet he wins.
[applause] so something is happening here. something is happening here. now i go down to washington the day before yesterday on my book to her -- tour running into people that i check in with the politician types that are consultants. they advise the republican party and what are you thinking about? i just go on listening tour of washington and what they tell me is things are pretty much as they were in 2015, 14, 13,
12. they did not see and still do not see the antiestablishment ways -- waive the populist wave on the right authoritarian but on the left call it progressive but both have in common a sense that the game is rigged and unfair and has to be fundamentally changed and the people in washington i have known for years that are consulting and advising the parties are acting as if nothing has changed. that's why a road the book. long -- wrote the book because it has changed. it has changed in ways that if we don't do something that responds to this outrage and anger in the sense that people are forgotten for the common
good has been forgotten that the elite of this country, and i mean those that are powerful that they are no longer reliable to achieve or seek a common good then we will be in even deeper trouble because after donald trump there will be more. final question, am i optimistic? the answer is yes. i go to airports a lot because you can be inconspicuous and it just happened to me a woman came up i have no idea who she was and she said what are we going to do?
[laughter] now put yourself in my place. [laughter] a strange person you have never seen before comes up and says to you what are we going to do? i said i don't know. [laughter] but there is a huge amount not just anger about worry and stress all over. but i am optimistic for a few reasons. i am optimistic because of those kids in florida. [applause]
i don't know how many of you have heard but what those long -- but when those young people talk with that type of passion and articulate you know something is going on. those people are the future, folks. and then there are college students. i have been teaching in universities often on the past 35 years and i have never come across a generation of college students who are as committed and dedicated and engaged and determined to make this country better than the current generation of college students. [applause] and then also i am optimistic
because even though we have a lot going on in washington, you have a grassroots response since i have not seen the anti- vietnam war movement. headed again by young people indivisible.org for example. [applause] that are not necessarily affiliated with the party apparatus or machinery which is a good thing because then they are not co-opted and they can speak honestly and they are organizing and mobilizing and energizing to hopefully give party hopefully the democratic party will be aligned with them and listen to them. this is happening all over the country. and i am optimistic also because i know history and now
we are in the second gilded age of america. the first that you may know i hope you don't remember when the 1880s and 1890s with robert behrens the captains of industry taking over to monopolize a lot of the economy and those lackeys who delivered bags of cash onto legislators to get the laws that they wanted and the gap between rich and poor was a chasm in the poor were falling fast and the rich were basically taking it all. but after the first age of
extremism, what happens? historically, kennedy was shot in the vice president then roosevelt became president but really what happened was the upsurge of americans all over the country who were angry and outraged enough at the ideals of these countries subordinated that they became engaged and demanded change. that was the progressive era that went from 1901 through the first world war but by some definitions certainly things that were begun in that era continued through the great depression and the fdr administration.
i believe we are asked the beginning or could be near the beginning of another progressive era because. [applause] because of the resilience in this country. political philosopher carl frederick once said talking about france, to be a frenchman is a fact to be an american is an ideal. he understood the difference between a country and the nation founded on history and ideals. now still even at our best with the postwar era during the second world war we were far away from those ideals i don't want you to think i am romanticizing the past but i
am saying that seeking out of those ideals gives the character that defines this country and i believe starting with the young people that we see today we will be doing it again. thank you. [applause] so now, let me take your questions we have a microphone appear and since this is cambridge massachusetts i will make a request you do not make a speech. [laughter] although i would love to hear what you have to say just keep the questions brief and make it a question rather than a statement then that would
enable me to get through a lot of questions. >> i am so happy to see you and meet you thank you for everything you do. one of the things i like about your work as you ground everything in history and one of the points today was capitalism was the role of corporations and in this day and age with what we are experiencing how do we address the role of corporate power and what can we do? >> in the early 50s a professor here at harvard who was a mentor of mine wrote a book called american capitalism and he theorized the best thing to come out of the fdr years was a balance in
our system to create filters of countervailing like labor unions that kept big retailers from coming together and went through centers of countervailing power that adds up to a formidable process that kept the wheel going we have lost a lot of those countervailing powers so behind your question i am assuming what provides that power? i cannot tell you exactly but i can tell you people are working on that right now if you look at the unions one of the most productive and successful unions going after the low-wage service sector workers to say you can
organize yourself and we can help you and give you more bargain to leverage and that is good where they should focus even middle-class workers even if they are freelancers coming together to form the association to have more bargaining power to have healthcare. it is an exciting time because of those forming new institutions of countervailing power. thank you for your question. >> a couple years before was born the planet past the point of sustainability's over the last couple of years with the progressive movement all the evidence i find means it will
hit the point not be able to sustain the economy but the topic of discussion was nonexistent but it seems like it will face people why are people talking about that? >> so the question is about sustainability and climate change but those that are talking about a lot that was ironic in the mean thing to say. [laughter] how many of you saw three days ago a poll that showed and i was quite encouraged that 70% of americans now believe not only is the climate changing but human beings are responsible for it? [applause] why is it that a record level of americans despite the fact they are told the opposite from republicans and donald
trump how is it 70% now now come to that conclusion? because they are directly experiencing it with floods and landslides and mudslides and everything else these people are experiencing with weird weather and that is changing public opinion and that is the first age to get this back on the agenda as it should be. >> thank you for being here i was interested about your optimism for the new progressive era. it seems to be systematic issues that are very different now like citizens united or gerrymandering and the phenomenon to reinforce us so give us differences now how
can you be optimistic and what can be done? [laughter] >> gerrymandering is not new but what is new is that systematic and highly technological way the gerrymandered districts are configured the california legislature which by the way california had very gerrymandered districts but 40 years ago they agreed of a referendum to create a special citizens commission to design congressional districts that look like districts not like snakes. you have a supreme court and many lower courts have found not just racial but partisan gerrymandering is illegal under the 14th amendment and
constitution so we may see more of that. citizens united it will be hard to turn that around but don't forget to send united does not prohibit public financing of elections or prohibit all sorts of restrictions in terms of going back and forth from the private sector to the public sector or stop us from requiring full disclosure of every dollar.into a campaign for or against or where it comes from in the source of all of that. there is a whole list of things that can be done even with citizens united i would not be surprised if soon, already there is a groundswell to get the amendment to reverse citizens united and i haven't even talked about the electoral college yet. but a bunch of states have already agreed that if other states or just five more
states agree to the interstate compact all of them will give all of their electoral votes to the winner of the general election then that makes the electoral college hill relevant and that is also on its way. so who could be pessimistic? [laughter] >> i would say there are two different people in the world there are as development like china and the new silk road that i would not say is nation versus nation but geopolitical cooperation with the new era of cooperation for mankind to be in south america this is is an entirely new system but meanwhile you also have the fact that there is to be the
fbi intelligence operation to attack the president and we saw this with the memo with that circular information being used. >> i'm sure there is a question. >> absolutely but christopher steele was shown he worked with the author of the weapons of mass instruction. >> i saw that. a real question a lot of people are standing behind you. get to your question. >> british intelligence this is a british run attack through the doj. >> and how have your. >> there will be a question. >> no no no.
please. let her ask her question. >> because the financial system is bankrupt they want to prevent that establishment of new global collaboration trump said he wants to work with russia that is good they want to sabotage this now the democrats buy into this what is your opinion? >> thank you. now let me just say something. this is important one of the problems we are in this country right now as we are not listening to each other. [applause] i tell my students all the time the only way to learn anything is to sit down with somebody who disagrees with you in a way that will sharpen your own views or the facts that you use daniel patrick moynihan the great professor and senator once said everybody is entitled to their
own opinions but not to their own facts. [applause] so take you very much for comin coming. i don't want to get into a factual dispute with you but i do respect your view and i do hope you do sit down and somebody sits down with a shown lady to talk about the facts to back sometimes it's what you don't say is more important than what you do say. >> absolutely. >> i happen to be in the mayor's office to see your awesome netflix documentary where you had hypothesize the things you could have done in the past speaking truth to power. i am in a position myself now
for a mayor who was very popular potentially has a lot to offer to the community at the same time ended up in washington because of the death threats from all over the country somebody had a trump tombstone as a joke receiving death threats im with grassroots activists even writing for gun rights as a kid but you are one of my inspirations. i am here i help to disrupt the stems across the north shore but i want to make sure i am on the right path had my make sure that opportunity goes forward with people who don't necessarily speak the truth? how do we motivate disruptors like yourself for a run for president that is what we are all here for be honest and can i give you a hug?
[laughter] >> later. [laughter] >> here again i will refer to history because some people remember during the civil rights era even during the vietnam war era, there was a lot of anger toward different parts of america from different parts of america and even i said my dear friend was murdered not just threatened but actually murdered if you are a changed agent you will cause ripples and waves and some people will be very uncomfortable. if you are a change agent trying to make change with authenticit authenticity, talking to people and eloquent listening to people who don't feel the way you do, organizing and mobilizing people in ways that again they
have respect for others, then there is the possibility of social learning but without social learning we are just shouting at one another. that is what we need more of. so do that. thank you. >> good evening mr. secretary. so pushing the reset button this goes to the first question if we went from the national economy to full employment economic prosperity to globalized economy with low interest rates and maximizing profit in that environment, can we really get back to an economy that strives for full employment and does that require a global movement? we could restart the democracy
but if the economy doesn't follow suit, we will not get very far. >> let me repeat these questions i want to make sure that he hears them. can we possibly make progress on the social agenda if the globalized economy runs by different rules? my response is yes because the economy does not exist on its own but the rules and this is true of the biggest economy in the world called the united states it depends on what we say the rules are. you cannot separate economics from politics because politics is the process by which the rules of the economy are determined to be time you hear somebody talk about the market and government watch your
wallets because they are not telling you the truth about how the market is a product of the government court decisions regulatory decisions that are made every day. so can we have a system that works for all people in the economy that works for all people? yes. if we understand how it works and if we take back the power. [applause] >> thank you for being here i want to say that i wonder what massachusetts would look like if you would have become our governor. [laughter] [applause] we missed that opportunity and now we have someone is another once-in-a-lifetime puppet kennedy and others running across the state so i wonder
what you learned or what advice you would have for these people who have been fighting their entire lives that want to make a difference in our state? >> i did run for the democratic nomination and i became pretty close. but if i had gotten that you never would have heard the name that romney ever again. [applause] but your question is very sincere and very hard so what advice for activists in this day in particular? it is a tough state it is not the liberal state a lot of people assume that it is. it is very complicated and my advice is what i would give to any state really even the activists in california has the reputation to be very liberal but go 5 miles from
the coast and it is republican. but what you need to do is have enormous patients and tenacity to understand things will change very quickly and be kind to yourself as in do not let yourself burnout but also have a long-term strategy to work with others and bring them into the full don't take credit for yourself here are the basics a lot of people in this room are organizers i'm just repeating what they know as well already but anybody was burned out they can't perform be kind to yourself and generous to yourself it is hard work but it is noble work. thank you. >> good evening i am so
grateful you are here and i want to ask, when you talk about this to be the second gilded age, how do you imagine the country can reconcile the legacy of slavery as we move forward with the issues that we have? >> slavery is the original sin of america why can't we be more like canada? they speak just like we do. they are just like us but with their culture they do not have to struggle with the legacy of slavery and all that underpins that it seems to me that one way to deal with that is to understand the wealth gap between african-american households and white households is huge in part because of that legacy that
you can trace historically how that has contributed to the wealth gap. so when you have people criticizing think it is important to understand there must be forms of action that directly recognize and remedy to some extent that kind of legacy it is foolish to think it is all about economic class it is also about racism. >> what do you think about the trump base and their reactionary stance? >> let's speak very clear. racism is not new in america. dino full b a is not new in america. misogyny is not new.
what is new is the degree of anger a lot of people have many of them were all white men about what happened to them over the last 30 or 40 years and they are on the downward escalator so a demagogue comes along and directs that anger at half african americans and muslims and mexican and veterans or anybody else who is different. that is what is going on. that's why you see this combination of economic stress and racism looming so large and the republican party but we have got to understand to deal with those underpinnings otherwise it is just politics as usual. thank you. [applause]
my signal is here i have to go but thank you for turning out and i just want to say i recognize a lot of you and also the stress that many of you have been under for at least a year if not more. be kind to yourselves as well to understand you are not alone and cambridge massachusetts is not an island i lived in berkeley california. [laughter] across the entire country it is very similar. that is a joke. [laughter] but the stress is natural and inevitable that keep up the fight. keep up the fight. it is important. thank you.