An accessible examination of how the “apparent arbitrariness and unfairness of the economy [has] undermined the public’s faith in its basic tenets.”
Since leaving the cabinet of the Bill Clinton administration, in which he served as secretary of labor, Reich (Beyond Outrage: What Has Gone Wrong with Our Economy and Our Democracy and How to Fix It, 2012, etc.) has worked a populist vein of protest against corporate excess. In this nontechnical economic manifesto, he opens with the nostalgic vision of an American past in which ordinary people could afford to buy a home and pay for college on a single income, a time long gone precisely because the economy has been reorganized for the benefit of the wealthy at the expense of the laboring and middle classes. Reich holds that government, long despised as the problem and not the solution, actually has a role, if abrogated, “in setting the rules of the economic game.” In the absence of sufficient government oversight, the rich have been setting those rules, and—no surprise—an ideally level playing field tilts in such a way that they get all the goals. The author takes a measured view even as he argues against free market orthodoxies, insisting, “rules create markets,” rules set by governments and not individuals. Reich examines key problem areas such as antitrust regulation and the tightening corporate stranglehold over intellectual property, and he arrives at some innovative reforms—e.g., paying all Americans a guaranteed annual income, a thought not quite as radical as it might seem and backed by an odd-bedfellow assortment of libertarians and conservatives. He also suggests making Americans shareholders of the intellectual property market, requiring a payment of royalties into the public domain as the cost of holding a patent.
Reich’s overriding message is that we don’t have to put up with things as they are. It’s a useful and necessary one, if not likely to sway the powers that be to become more generous of their own volition.