The World Affairs Council and Global Washington welcomed Robert B. Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, for a discussion on March 5, 2018 at the Seattle Foundation about his new book, The Common Good. The book, Reich explained, was inspired by his observation that in his lifetime, we’ve lost the collective aspiration and the determination to achieve a “Common Good.”
While the 1960s were fraught with serious problems both at home and abroad, Reich noted the widespread desire to “fix things.” The decade gave rise to Medicare, Medicaid, and civil rights. In the first few decades after World War II, the United States came closer to equality of opportunity than anytime before or after. This enlightened interest in globalism and institution building has long since faded, though. Reich explained that the great social contracts that once defined the U.S. as a nation are now withering away with declining trust in institutions, banks, and businesses. The erosion of trust is not only a national phenomenon, but extends beyond the country’s borders as well.
President Trump, Reich pointed out, is not the cause of the country’s apparent moral decline, but rather a culmination of widening inequality and the lack of adequate investment in education and infrastructure. In other words, President Trump is a symptom of a more deeply rooted problem that has made millions of Americans turn their backs on the ideals that originally motivated the country.
According to Reich, the recent tariffs on steel and aluminum are dangerous and create a zero-sum game vision that further removes the United States from globalization with regard to not only trade, but also immigration, international accords, and global affairs in general. Reich advised that we must move away from declining real wages, less job security, and fewer opportunities for young people to avoid turning President Trump into a demagogue for Americans who feel left behind.
Citing the rising movement for gun control perpetuated by Florida teens, Reich asserted the importance of grassroots organization to reform a system. Trump’s election, as well as conservative movements in Europe, have brought attention to the realness of inequality. Reich noted that while Americans tend to be more practical than ideological, ideology has come close to dominating. These grassroots efforts, like gun control, the #MeToo movement, and reactions against abuses of power, have helped increase political participation on the individual level. More people are entering politics for the first time in their lives. This, Reich noted, is the way forward.