Why Robert Reich Cares So Passionately About Economic Inequality

Paul Solman | PBS Newshour | October 15, 2013

Friday night's NewsHour featured about six-and-a-half minutes of an interview with newly minted movie star Robert Reich, professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. We thought some folks might be interested in the entire discussion and therefore are presenting it in two installments, edited slightly for ease of reading.

Here is the first:

Paul Solman: What's the basic argument here?

Robert Reich:The argument is that inequality is bad for everyone, not just the middle class and poor. The rich would do better with a smaller share of a rapidly growing economy then they're doing now with a large share of an economy that is barely growing at all. It's not growing because there's not enough purchasing power in the middle class, and the lower-middle class and everybody aspiring to join the middle class, to keep the economy going.

We've seen this from the pioneering work of Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty, looking back at tax records. They've brought that research up to 2012 and they see that 95 percent of the gains, the economic gains, since the recovery began in 2009, are going to the top 1 percent. Meanwhile, median household income keeps dropping, adjusted for inflation. Well, where are people going to get the money they need to keep the economy going? We can't go back into debt like we were in before 2008. So there's a fundamental threat to the economy.