Robert Reich is a Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.  He served in three national administrations, most recently as Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton.  In his latest book, “Aftershock  The Next Economy and America’s Future”, he argues persuasively that the reason the nation’s economy almost had a meltdown in 2008 is due to the increasing concentration of income at the top, and due to  a middle class that has gone deeply into debt to maintain what it views as a decent standard of living. 

He talks about the three major coping mechanisms that the middle class had adopted starting in 1975 to preserve a decent standard of living – women moved into paid work (often because a single income wouldn’t support a family), everyone worked longer hours (many more hours than the average European or Japanese worker), and drawing down savings and borrowing to the hilt. 

Reich writes presciently about an Independence Party (read Tea Party) that could take power in a decade that will adopt often extreme measures to restore some semblance of economic justice in the country, unless other reforms are put in place.  Such politics of anger will continue to grow as more Americans conclude that the economic and political game is rigged  for the benefit of the already ultra-rich and corporations. 

In the final chapter of this book, “What Should Be Done”, Reich makes some very interesting suggestions.  Among them are a “reverse income tax” that supplements the wages of the middle class (an idea proposed by economist Milton Friendman and that currently is in effect for low-income workers as the Earned Income Tax Credit), a tax on fossil fuels based on the amount of carbon dioxide in such fuels, higher marginal tax rates on the wealthy, a reemployment system that speeds and smoothes the way for those who become unemployed to find new jobs, Medicare-for-all healthcare reform, and lastly getting money out of politics through more generous financing of public financing of elections and stricter limits on campaign contributions. 

One need not necessarily agree with these suggestions, but I think they should at least be considered.  This nation was founded by people who dared to champion new ideas, and openness to innovation is one of America’s best historical traits. 

This book is available through your Alameda County Library System under the call number 330.973 REICH.