Saving Capitalism — For The Many, Not The Few by Robert Reich
Robert Reich was brought to my attention when he endorsed Bernie Sanders as the Democratic nominee for the US presidency in 2016. Seeing that he was Labour Secretary under Bill Clinton was enough to leave me sceptical, however, when I read this book it made clear his ideas are totally at odds with your typical politician. The big question is can his ideas work in practice? I don’t agree with Reich’s views on what is good for the working class, but his experience and academic rigour are undeniable and much is to be gained from this analysis of capitalism. Often the debate is framed as the benefits of the free market being at odds with a government that gives a safety net to those in need. This book dismisses this debate as meaningless and a distraction from the true problems the United States faces.
The myth of the “self-made” man is deftly brushed aside, by the historic examples and economic analysis of income inequality and employment rate, in this work. From the end of the Second World War to the 1970s pay rose along with gains in productivity, but since then the erosion of union rights and the increased rate of globalisation (involving shifting jobs overseas to exploit cheap labour for profit) the bargaining power of working people has declined considerably. For this to change, the perception that poverty is due to a lack of ambition needs to be challenged, and the arguments in this book do just that.
A lot of works of this nature do not offer adequate solutions to the problems they diagnose, and this book is no exception! However, it does provide some interesting and creative ideas on how the economy could adapt to an automated age where lots of jobs become less essential. The alternatives provided such as Universal Basic Income (UBI), which is increasingly part of political debate, and a digital dividend providing individuals with shares in any future technological business developments sounds good in theory but I would be intrigued to hear how these ideas could be put into practice. I’m sure Reich delves into this in his other works or lectures, but based on what I have read I will need more convincing to buy into the alternatives offered, which will require me to seek other ideas, hopefully, ones that emphasise how they can be achieved. I don’t believe any of this will be achieved through the limited lens of capitalism, greater equality flies in the face of its ideological principles of domination and exploitation for profit. Potentially some of these ideas could end up being put into practice to “save capitalism”, but this would only come to be if it was the only alternative to the complete overthrow of the system. In my view, this isn’t good enough and we deserve more.
This book is insightful, accessible and lays out the realities of free markets economics, exposing the intentions of a system and its impact on working people. Although it does not cover how the United States’ economic agenda impacts on relations with the rest of the world in any real depth, it is a superb introduction to the inner workings of 21st century capitalism and will give you a better understanding of why the system doesn’t work for the majority.