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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

Robert Reich in Adelaide « Previous | |Next »
August 2, 2007

Last night Professor Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor under US President Bill Clinton and national editor of American Prospect, gave a talk at the Don Dunstan Foundation, on the essentials for a decent working society in the 21st century. He has been in Adelaide for a week or so meeting education and political people advising on the skills shortage and distributing the benefits of the resource boom. The skills shortage in SA arises because teachers, health workers and social workers will go to work in the booming uranium mines to drive trucks and earn $150,000 pa.

I guess we can see it as development in the Festival of Ideas and Thinkers in Residence. Rich, the voice of American left-liberalism, is known for arguing in the Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st-Century Capitalism (1991) for the high road response to globalization-- the need for workers to adapt to the new global economy with workers to learn more technology and become more skilled. He predicted the shrinkage of the middle class due to a gap between unskilled and highly skilled workers.

Neo-liberals have reworked this into innovation and entrepreneurship in the knowledge economy. Reich goes further as he talks in terms of a decent working society, since if people lack skills and investing in people (human capital) to develop their capacities as workers and as people. The danger is to avoid just being a quarry by ignoring the other areas of innovation and development.

Reich's new book is Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America. Liberal in the U.S. stands for the separation of church and state, economic policy, a mixed economy—not a socialist, not a democratic socialist economy, but a mixed economy—in which corporations have certainly enough profits to continue to invest but there are regulations governing health, safety, and the environment, and the opportunity for workers to form unions. This Liberal consensus is under attack from the radical conservative movement that began twenty years ago and resulted in the split between what is now colloquially called "red America" and "blue America."

Where Ann Coulter comes to bury liberalism Reich comes to save it. For the liberal progressive mind religion is false and degrading, tradition is oppressive, and democracy and true freedom consist not in what the people prefer but in what elite scholars and statesmen conclude is in their best interests. In this talk at the Carnegie Council Reich addresses the American version of Howard's battlers. He says that:

The vast working and middle class has been seduced into Republican conservatism over the past twenty years because median incomes for men without college degrees have been declining adjusted for inflation, generating a great deal of frustration and anxiety. Women have gone into work over the past twenty-five years largely because they needed to do so to prop up family incomes, not because of all the wonderful new opportunities for professional women. Most women have gone into work because non-college male incomes have declined.

And then this point about the left of centre response:
The Democratic Party has not responded to this crisis, and that failure explains part of the void, the vacuum, into which Rush Limbaugh, the right wing, has rushed, because what they are doing is blaming. They are blaming affirmative action, feminists, foreigners, and immigrants. They are using the politics of resentment, and unfortunately, because there is nothing very cogent and powerful on the other side, that void is being filled quite effectively.The people who are listening to Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others tend to be non-college men, relatively young, and quite cynical, frustrated, and angry about their plight.

Reich has a tendency to define conservative in the last decade and a half in terms of a Radcon, and to "underplay the diversity of conservative opinions and perspectives.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:11 AM |