He’s just a little guy, four feet eleven inches tall, but he packs a very big academic and political punch.
Robert Reich is the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He was Secretary of Labor under President Clinton. Time magazine called him one of the10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, several of which were best sellers. The founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause, he has recently produced a motion picture entitled “Inequality for All.”
I saw him last night on TV, chatting with political activist and movie producer Michael Moore.
What intrigued me most about their discussion was their agreement on the proposition that dialogue between citizens of different political persuasion is necessary and possible, assuming everyone has a sense of humor.
I like to think I have a sense of humor, and I certainly represent a different point of view from those two fellows.
So here goes.
Professor Reich says in his blog:
That’s why it’s so important to (1) raise the minimum wage at least to its inflation-adjusted value 40 years ago — which would be well over $10 an hour, (2) extend unemployment benefits to the jobless, (3) launch a major jobs program to rebuild the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, (4) expand Medicaid to the near-poor, (5) enable low-wage workers to unionize, (6) rehire all the teachers, social workers, police, and other public service employees who were laid off in the recession, (7) exempt the first $20,000 of income from Social Security payroll taxes and make up the difference by removing the cap on income subject to the tax.
He doesn’t say it, but I think it fair to assume that the Professor advocates that all these things be done by the national government in Washington D.C.
(1) Minimum wage. Two points. The national government has no constitutional authority to legislate a nation-wide minimum wage. Supposedly, Congress can dictate a minimum wage for companies engaged in interstate commerce, but that only complicates the problem. The constitution leaves the matter of wage and price controls to the individual states, and that is exactly where it belongs. The United States of America does not have a single seamless economy. The cost of living in Mississippi is different than it is in New York. So are the prevailing wages. The people have much greater influence on state government than they do on the national government.
(2) Expand unemployment benefits. Again, this is an economic program that should be addressed by the state legislatures, not the national Congress. No one thinks that unlimited unemployment benefits would be a good thing. Pretty obviously, unlimited benefits would disincentive potential workers and weaken the work ethic of many people. The idle poor, like the idle rich, are not likely to spend their time doing things likely to benefit the common good. And, of course, there is always the underground economy. People getting unemployment benefits can cut lawns and paint houses. With no withholding or social security taxes, they provide cheap labor, which is not likely to be affected by minimum wage laws. Has no one ever thought of paying unemployment benefits to employers who agree to take on the unemployed?
(3) Reich would restore the Rooseveltian WPA program. No need, I suppose to have a shovel ready program if the folks with the shovels aren’t particularly enthused about using them.
(4) Medicaid belongs in the states. A national mandate to expand Medicaid is not only unconstitutional, it is unwise. Maybe Medicaid should be extended in West Virginia and contracted in Wyoming. One size fits all socialism isn’t working and won’t work. And, by the way, how does the web site for RomneyCare function in Massachusetts?
(5) Low wage workers already have a constitutional right to unionize. I’m sure the professor has something else in mind. Like nationally financed community organizers?
(6) Re-hire laid off government employees. I’m all for it. The way to do it is to make all taxes paid to state and local government a credit against national taxes. Let’s stop sending money to Washington and then begging the lobby financed politicians to give it back.
(7) Nolo contendere. Although I do think folks at every level of earning should be encouraged to save for their old age.
Professor Reich seems to be a reasonable fellow, despite his preference for national socialism.
My problem is that I remember that NAZI was an acronym for national socialism 70 years ago.