14 October 2018, UC Berkeley, California, USA
Well, as you can see, the state of public debate in the United States right now has worn me down. No, it’s true. When I came to Berkeley 15 years ago, I was six foot two. So it’s been a hard time. It does make me think though that I first came to Berkeley as a sort of a graduate student. I was working for a professor of architecture here in the summer of 1968. You remember that summer. Some of you remember that summer. And I have a very, very distinct recollection. I had gone, as Dan said, and thank you Dan for that introduction and thank you for everything you do by the way.
But as Dan said, I had the less fortunate experience of going to Dartmouth college and when I went to Dartmouth college before I came to Berkeley that summer of ’68, Dartmouth college was all male you should understand. And it also, when I went there, it was before the interstate highway system was completely finished, so it was hard to leave. And it is in Hanover, New Hampshire. So as it was like being in a monastery in Siberia. And I came to Berkeley the summer of 1968 and you know that scene in the Wizard of Oz when Dorothy opens the door and it suddenly technicolor.
I remember going up university avenue. I’ve been for the first time in my, my, my iconic beat up beetle and Volkswagen and I remember that first, that first aroma of, of Eucalyptus and marijuana and tear gas. I thought I had, I had reached Nirvana. And then I made a terrible mistake and I have to confess this to you, I, I left Berkeley for 35 years and then I came back.
But what I’d like to talk to you about in the brief time we have before your questions is what has happened to civic debate and this country in terms of what seems to be to be a crisis of incivility and although we can come up with many, many potential causes, I want to. I want to try out three with you that I think that not only accurate but also potentially within our power to do something about.
Now we have as a culture, as a nation, we’ve always disagreed. I mean, you remember many of you, class of 1968 for particularly you remember the disagreements during the Civil Rights Movement. You remember the disagreements over Vietnam. You remember disagreements on and some of you younger people you remember disagreements over women’s rights and women’s rights to choose and the fights over abortion and everything else.
I mean we fight all the time. Incivility is not about not fighting. Civility is not about agreeing. The issue is how we disagree. And for most of my life, most of my memory and I expect yours, we have had an agreement, although we disagree on the substance. We have had an agreement on how we disagree. And those need to be distinguished.
And how we disagree is not only with a certain degree of respect, although sometimes things can get pretty heated and a certain degree of tolerance and openness, although there two things can get heated and I’m talking about over the last 50 years. But we also trust or used to trust our institutions of government.
In 1964, there was a survey done by Gallup and it has been repeated that survey since then, every two or three years. And the question is, do you trust government to do the right thing all or most of the time? In 1964, 72 percent of Americans said yes. Today, fewer than 20 percent say yes.
So it’s not just that we disagree and it’s not just that we disagree sometimes very angrily and sometimes with a huge amount of nastiness, but it’s also that we no longer trust the institutions of government that we used to trust to handle our disagreements. And that is part of the problem, I believe.
We also have much more of what might be called geographic tribalism than ever before in my memory. What do I mean by geographic tribalism? I simply mean that the people around us, our neighbors, our friends, tend to be people who agree with us and the people who disagree with us and agree with themselves tend to live geographically in different places.
Now, sociologists understand that the most influences on public opinion under European, on my opinion, on our values are the people we see every day, the people we talked to. Yes. Even you. And so if the people around us we talk with and we see every day are of the same view that we are, we entrench ourselves in those views.
The best way, the best way, and this is what I tell my students all the time, the best way of learning anything is to talk to somebody who disagrees with you. If you’re only talking to people who agree with you, if everybody around you is mirroring your own values, then you’re not going to learn anything. And if you’re dug in and you don’t want to listen to anybody else who has a different value, then you’re never going to learn anything.
This is what concerns me a little bit about what’s happening in some universities because some people, some professors, some faculty, some of you, some students say, we don’t want to listen to anything that’s going to make us unhappy or provoke us. But my response back is, if you’re not provoked, you’re not going to learn. The essence of learning is to be provoked.
And so we need different views. We need different voices. Fifteen years ago when I came, I was in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was teaching at a, an institution there that shall go unnamed. And 15 years ago when I came to Berkeley, I drove no longer a beetle, no longer Volkswagen. I had a Mini Cooper. Now 15 years ago, there were not many Mini Coopers in the middle of America. I drove from Cambridge, Massachusetts 3,000 miles to Berkeley.
I love driving across this country. I’ve driven across the country four or five times and 15 years ago I drove in my little, my little Mini Cooper and I noticed that as I left the east coast, there were no Mini Coopers. And I, and I got to Oklahoma and I was in a gas line, I was waiting for gas and, and some truckers came over and they knocked on my window and I lowered the window and I said, Can I help you? They said, What is this? I said, this is a Mini Cooper. They said, how does anybody fit in there?
Now at that point I had a strategic decision to make. You understand what I’m saying? And I decided what the APP I, I opened the door and I stood and I said, no problem. And they looked very puzzled and a little bit, well, let’s say they were befuddled and, and I, and I said, well, I’m from Massachusetts and we’re all under five feet tall. And they nodded and walked off.
And then I got to Berkeley and I thought Berkeley was 3,000 miles away from Cambridge and it took me a little bit of time to realize that I had not moved at all. It was the same town, the same city. I had moved from Cambridge to Cambridge, from Berkeley to Berkeley, but it was the, a lot of the territory that I covered in between the non-Mini Cooper land that was of a different, let’s say, tribe.
Have you ever seen those maps of America where you can actually find out where Starbucks are located. Do you know that there are such maps and my children and I, oh, not that many years ago we took a road trip around in middle America and we stopped in places where there were Starbucks. Not because we wanted Starbucks, but because Starbucks is a genius company in terms of finding geographically tribal oases in Red America, where you, if you are a blue America kind of person can feel at home, usually college campuses.
Now, how do we get out of our bubbles? How do we actually start talking to people who disagree with us? I think it’s not all that hard. We start with our own families. I daresay there are people in your families who you disagree with politically. In fact, I dare say there are many of you who are people in your families who you don’t even like to talk politics with. Am I right? They’re usually named Uncle Bob.
Now, here’s what I, what I urge you to do this. There’s a little bit of an advance in our current incivility. Instead of avoiding conflict and I completely understand conflict avoidance, particularly inside families. What I urge you to do is seek out uncle Bob at the next, well maybe this Thanksgiving and sit down with uncle Bob and don’t start with labels. Don’t start with Republican, Democrat, Donald Trump. Don’t mention Trump. Don’t start with any labels at all. Conservative, liberal. Forget them, labels. Just talking and asking your uncle Bob about his work. What do you know? How is the job? How were the benefits? Do you see where I’m going?
In other words, have your uncle Bob tell you his story about kitchen table economics. If you want to use that term. Sort of, you know how is how’s the, how’s the company, how’s it dealing with healthcare, health insurance, pensions — all the things that most people talk about at least with family over the kitchen table and are worried about and you can tell your story. And before long you may discover that you have a lot in common and he has a lot in common with you. And then you might talk about solutions. But you see you never are getting up to labels.
You’re talking about the common kitchen table economic issues that you and your uncle Bob are dealing with and that story or those stories are the foundation stones for the kind of stories that most Americans are actually telling each other. But it’s in those stories and in the commonality of those stories that you begin to understand something much larger: that it’s not about Republicans versus Democrats. Conservative versus liberal. Donald Trump or people who don’t like Donald Trump, it really is about what’s happening to average people.
Which gets me to the second reason I think we have engaged in or found ourselves and the incivility pickle we’re in. The first one is geographic tribalism. The second has to do with what has happened to incomes over the last 40 years. Now, if I had a chart behind me or a slide behind me, I would show you that from 1946. How many of you were born in… I don’t want to ask you. I know the class of 1968. Most of you were born in 1946. I was born in 1946. Bill Clinton was born in 1946. George W dot Bush was born in 1946. Donald Trump was born in 1946. Cher was born in 1946. I mean anybody who was anybody was born in 1946. Demographers, demographers. They scratch their heads. They want to know. Well, why? Why, why? Why so many people were born in 1946. It’s not rocket science.
My father was in the Second World War and he came home and there was my mother. This is not complicated, but since 1946, if I had a chart behind me, you’d see that for starting in 1946 and extending up to about 1978, 79, 80. The economy grew and the median wage not the average, the median wage that is half above, half below median wage grew exactly in tandem with economic growth.
Everybody, no matter whether they were in the top 10 percent, top five percent, top one percent, bottom 20 percent, bottom 10 percent, everybody grew together. In fact, interestingly, if you were in the bottom fifth, the bottom 20 percent you, your income grew faster than if you were in the top 10 percent or top 20 percent in those years. Three decades from 1946 up until 1976, 1977, 78, 79. What happens starting in the late seventies is that median wage begins to flatten.
Now the economy keeps on growing. Now, granted, there are recessions and recoveries. There’s the business cycle, but behind the business cycle you can see the economy continues to grow at, you know, two or three or four percent a year on average, and yet the median wage begins to flatten and something is going on because the median wage flattens for the next 40 years. I mean, the economists kill continues to grow and it’s not that people are not getting benefits from that economy. The gains from the economy are going someplace. It’s just that they’re not going to the middle class.
I feel that way too about all of this. So. So then the question becomes what do you as a typical family do? As a typical family beginning in late seventies, we now can see this in hindsight. We didn’t know it then because we were in the middle of it. It’s like a fish in water. The typical family starting in the late seventies, the first coping mechanism. I’m using the term coping mechanism advisedly to mean this is how people cope with the fact that their wages are under a huge amount of stress.
Well, the first coping mechanism is women, middle class women and many working class women going into paid work. Now middle class women and working class women and we’re already working obviously, but they went into paid work in large large numbers beginning of the late 1970s. And I wish I could tell you it was because all the wonderful opportunities open to women. No. That was part of it, but the major reason women that went into paid work starting in the late seventies was to prop up family incomes that were starting to drop.
Now that worked for a while. That coping mechanism kept family incomes going up until the mid nineties and then there’s a limit to how many hours families can put in and women can work. And what I remember seeing when I was Secretary of Labor. I’d look at the data and I’d be amazed at the number of hours both men and women were putting in. I mean it was almost as if we had about a third of the country. Husbands and wives were working on shifts. They were taking care of the kids, while the other one was was working and then the other one would come back and the other one would go take care of the kids. It was amazing what I was seeing in the data and I was hearing when I’d go out into the country.
We had an expression, an acronym for these families. I don’t know if you remember them. DINS. Double income, no sex. Because how could there be any procreation? I think that they.
Well, there was a third coping mechanism. When you couldn’t put in any more hours. The third coping mechanism for American families faced with stagnant wages was to use their homes as piggy banks and get home equity loans or refinance their mortgages and this worked. It worked pretty well because everybody thought, as you remember, home prices were going to continue to rise, and then of course we had the housing bubble. The debt bubble exploded, and then something very important happened.
At the time. All of us, particularly those of us who were in government or around government or doing economic policy, all we were thinking about was how to get out of this spiral, this downward spiral. How to save Wall Street, how to make sure that the economy didn’t go down to the tube like it did in 1929 and the 1930s.
But in hindsight something very important also happened during the ensuing great recession, millions of Americans lost their savings. Some lost there jobs, millions did. Millions also lost their homes and the banks got bailed out. Homeowners did not. Not a single Wall Street executive went to jail. And a different story began to be told whether you were Republican, Democrat, conservative, liberal didn’t matter.
In fact, interestingly, remember you remember the tea party movement emerged from those years and the tea party movement was basically a response, an angry response to both Wall Street and government. More of an angry response to government, but it emerged from that era, that financial crisis, that set of what seemed to be scandals.
And then you also had a very brief movement called the occupy movement emerging almost at the same time, almost around the same issues, although the blame was shifted to Wall Street and to the big corporations, but it was the same set of problems. And then what happened? We began to hear from candidates that the game is rigged against average working people and the reason we began to hear that is because the people who were advising the candidates, the pollsters and also other consultants, were picking that up all around the country. And the reason they were picking that up around the country is because that’s the way people felt. The game was rigged. There was something fundamentally wrong about an economy that continued to grow, but everybody’s wages were flat and now everybody knew everybody’s wages were flat or at least the median wage was flat because there were no longer any coping mechanisms left.
And Wall Street got bailed out. Nobody went to jail. And the rest of us seem to be left holding the bag somehow. Even Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election started out her campaign saying the deck is stacked in favor of those at the top. But even before Hillary started, in 2015, I was doing research for the book, “The Common Good,” and I was out in Wisconsin and Minnesota and Michigan and I went down to Arkansas and in southern Ohio, wherever I went, I heard the same things. Regardless of whether people describe themselves as conservatives or Liberals or Republicans or Democrats, they all were saying the same thing. The game is rigged, it’s rigged.
And I would ask people in the middle of 20 15, I’d ask them, well, tell me who you are supporting for president and most in this kind of free floating focus group that I held in 2015 told me they weren’t sure, but they were most attracted to two candidates: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. And I remember when I first heard that I said, what? I mean, I can understand one or the other, but how can you use their two names in the same sentence? They’re on different planets, if different galaxies.
And what people in Michigan or Wisconsin or wherever I was would say to me back, Well, they’re both, they will both shake up the system. They’re not politics as usual. They’re not even typical politicians. They’ll unrig the system. They’ll make it work for me. I don’t want a politician. I don’t trust politicians. Well, that was the first indication to me that what had started really in the late seventies in terms of stagnant median wages and then three coping mechanisms that were eventually exhausted and then a big bail out and everybody else feeling that they were shafted somehow was resulting in politics, a political reality of a sort that I hadn’t come across before.
Now, of course Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders were at are very different. But to the typical person out there angry about what’s happened, they were not all that different and by the way, that anger, that sense of being manipulated, cheated, being shafted by the system, that’s still there.
And in your questions if you have them, I could talk about Donald Trump. I don’t want to particularly right now, but I would just want to bring your attention to the fact that there are now politicians out there on both sides, including Trump, who are using that anger and living off of that anger and building their political base off that anger. And the vitriol and anger in our system is a direct result in response to all of that.
Now, I said that there were three, in my view, three core reasons for the kind of lack of civility and disrespect and everything else that we’re seeing right now in politics. The third I want to suggest to you, and it can’t be avoided, is the media. But instead of just simply doing what a lot of people do and saying, oh, I’m going to be more in social media, it’s awful. People that can attack other people anonymously. It’s just all social media. It’s not. It’s not just social media and it’s not just Fox News.
I want to remind you that Leslie Moonves, who was the CEO until recently of CBS, was delighted by the politics of 2016. He said, bring it on. We’ve never done this well before. You see what we have in the media, in communications right now is extraordinary competition for people’s ears and eyes. Attention spans are short because attention is being pulled in every possible direction and when you have to get attention, one of the ways of getting attention is to be mean, to be angry.
Not too long ago I was on a television program and I was debating somebody who is of a different political party and we actually had a very good discussion. It turned out we agreed more than we disagreed. It was quite extraordinary and it got to the station break and I said to the producer, the producer, you know when you’re, when you’re on television, you’re, you’re hooked up through your ear to a producer, and I said to the producer, pretty good. I was really impressed with how well that discussion went, don’t you think? And she said, no.
I said, what’s wrong? She said, you’ve got to be angrier when when we get back on the air, I want you to be angry. I said, I don’t want to be angry. We were having a good discussion. We’re modeling for the public at a time when the public needs models of people from different, different ideas, different political persuasions. We were modeling actually the possibility of agreement. She said, it doesn’t matter. Be Angrier. I said, I don’t want to. She said, we’re going to be back on in 10 seconds, be angrier, and at that point I lost my temper.
Now the press has always, at least to some extent, even the so called elite press has always been looking for stories that will capture attention. I remember that in the 2008 presidential election, I got a call from the New York Times for a political reporter who said, we’ve gone through, we found a a whole, a whole cache of Hillary Clinton’s letters from college and she mentioned in those letters that she went out on a date with you and I said, really? I didn’t remember it, but I didn’t want to say I didn’t remember it. That would itself make a headline. I said, well, what can I do? What can I help you with?
And he said, well, I’d like you to tell me, is there anything from that date you had with Hillary Rodham at that time, Hillary Rodham that might, that might give us and our readers some sense of how she would perform as president? Well, I, with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek. I said, uh, well we went to a movie and she wanted an inordinate amount of butter on her popcorn, and then there was silence. I thought he had hung up. I said, are you still there? He said, I’m just writing all this down and then it appeared next week and the New York Times.
But we’ve got to the point where the competition for attention is so intense that those competitive forces are now generating and helping generate a nastiness that we have not heard and experienced before. Even reporting on the nastiness is itself exciting for some people. But I dare say that here too, we all and everybody else in this country, can register our dismay with negativism. That is we can reward media that are giving us information and also doing it in a way that is not nasty.
There is no reason we have got to watch or listen to or read nothing but angry, brutal kinds of exchanges. We have it in our power. In other words, to change the discourse in this country. And I think we will because I keep on coming across people in my free floating focus group who are so turned off by the negativism right now and are beginning to reward politicians who are actually coming up with positive agendas and not being brutal to their opponents.
I heard it the other day. I was in Texas and I was in an airport. You know, I, I’m, I’m so conspicuous. I guess it’s because I’m conspicuous. People come up to me, I have no idea who they are. And they say things like, what are we going to do? I say, I don’t know. But this person, she came up to me and she said, you know, I am. So after she said, what are we going to do? And I said, I don’t know. She said, I am so impressed with Beto O’Rourke. Well, it’s interesting that, I mean, here we are in Berkeley, California and some of you reacted positively.
I don’t know that much about him. I’ve been researching him, but that what they said about him was that it wasn’t just his values they liked the, like the way he presented them. They liked his personality, they liked him and they liked the way he treated. If you can believe it, Ted Cruz. Well, you see, that’s what I’m getting at.
So we are not entirely powerless. I mean even here at the University of California, Berkeley, I have tried and I think you in your own ways can try to make sure that this is not a sanctuary for just one kind of view and that people are invited here as professors and as speakers who have different views and that are provocative and provoke. Even if people don’t like to be provoked, they should be provoked. In other words, we can all do our parts in all sorts of ways to change the dialogue, to change the temperature, to change the quality of discourse in America.
The founding fathers talked about civic virtue a great deal. If you read the federalist, you see again and again, they mentioned this, Hamilton and Madison especially. They talk about civic virtue. What this country has got to rely on his civic virtue. It can’t simply rely on the constitution. We need people who evince and practice civic virtue. What did they mean by civic virtue? They did not mean simply being nice to each other.
No. They meant people who are willing as part of their sense of citizenship to engage with others in public deliberation and they use the term deliberation. In public deliberation around the events of the day, around the future of the country. Deliberation was so critical to democracy? It wasn’t just free speech. It was not simply a matter of people voting. Deliberation meant actually talking with other people. Understanding and listening.
And part of deliberation. In my view, I call eloquent listening and eloquent listening is when your uncle Bob says something, you don’t just stop him or cut them off. You asked him what he means. You repeat what he says. You try to understand what he is getting at. Eloquent listening means being willing to open your mind to the possibility that your uncle Bob might be right or it might be even persuasive. Can you imagine how different this country could be if we engaged in that kind of civic virtue? Thank you all.
And now we have some time. I hope we have some time for your questions.
Audience member 1: Professor Reich, you failed to address identity politics. Surely. That’s another thing that’s poisoning the discord today. Could you comment on that?
Reich: I failed to address identity politics and surely that’s something that is poisoning the discourse today. Well, I don’t know that it’s spoiling the discourse. I mean we are not just people, but we’re also black people or white people or men or women or were people. I mean, we can’t ignore the fact that we have in this country, for example, a history of racial discrimination and we have in this country a history of sexual harassment and brutality. We do. Does somebody want to disagree with that?
But that doesn’t mean that everybody else becomes an enemy. In other words, identity politics doesn’t have to be a politics of negativity. It can simply be a politics in which we acknowledge and respect the different perspectives and histories that people have given who they are. I mean I am if you haven’t noticed, very short. And that shortness is part of my identity and if I didn’t share it with you. In fact, the first thing I said to you are, the first thing when I came out was I made a joke about my height because I knew that you were aware of it and I was aware of it. I wanted you to know that I knew that you knew that I knew.
Audience member 2: I’ve joked with people that I was a member of a basketball team with you and I was the center, but what I wanted to say was eloquent listening. I’m going to go here,Tucker Carlson, who someone I don’t agree with at the Commonwealth Club on Wednesday. What question would you ask him?
Reich: Well, if I were in the audience talking to Tucker Carlson and I’d say, why don’t you have Robert Reich on your show more often? I think that again, we have CNBC, people, Rachel Maddow people, and we have Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity people, but why don’t we mix it up a little bit? How are we ever going to talk to each other when we don’t?
Audience member 3: How do you feel the sentiments that you’re talking about fit in with the recent Cavanagh hearing?
Reich: Well, I’ll tell you. My first job in government was working for Robert Bork. And I liked Robert Bork. I mean I was assistant to the solicitor general when he was solicitor general. He just fired Archibald Cox. He was not terribly popular. I didn’t like what he was doing, but I had had him as a law professor and I liked him personally. We disagreed on the second, fourth, fifth, eighth, and ninth amendments to the constitution, but I, but I liked him personally and when he went through what he went through in his Supreme Court hearing, and some of you remember may remember the Robert Bork hearings. In fact, there was even an expression called “to Bork,” which meant to be somebody who had been character assassinated. I was very upset by that. I predicted that the time that that would undermine civility in Supreme Court nominations and I unfortunately was proven right.
I think that we’ve got to be aware in politics and every other institution and position of leadership we’re in or even non-position of leadership. We’ve got to be aware of the effect of what we are having, the effects of what we are doing, to the institutions in which we are, that we are inhabiting. It’s not just a matter of winning. It’s a matter of winning and strengthening an institution. The Supreme Court is now weaker, substantially weaker as an institution than it was before Bork and Thomas, and certainly the Cavanaugh hearings.
Audience member 4: You talked a lot about using, or improving dialogue. How do we use that dialogue to improve the condition of our, of our country? So moving from just talking about it to doing it outside, of leaving it to the politicians and the people in charge?
Reich: One of the themes I was trying to push was that we don’t leave it to the politicians. We also do it personally. We seek out people who are different and who might disagree with us and we’re not intimidated and we don’t avoid conflict. It’s not the conflict we should avoid. It’s a certain form of conflict that is pretty undermining of our civility, but we’ve got to personally try to overcome that. Now it’s hard, easy to say, hard to do. And I provided you, I hope, some ideas of how to do that, but we’ve got to try to do it in our personal life.
I’ve also suggested, now this may be a little bit hokey, but I think it’s maybe a way to do it, that we go back to the old idea of sister cities, remember where we used to have sister cities, but the sister cities really should be across the red, blue political divide. So for example, what would happen if Berkeley had Oklahoma City as its sister city? I mean, can you imagine? You probably can’t imagine. That’s the problem. It’s so hard to imagine, but you. I mean, I mean taken to its logical and I don’t want to. I don’t want to overstate something like this but, but, but we could actually have pen pals. We could, we could have families who our family and their family of different political persuasions got together with.
One of my best friends in the world is a man named Alan Simpson, Alan Kay Simpson, former Republican, very senior Republican senator from Wyoming. Alan Simpson is about six foot eight feet tall. He and I see eye to eye on nothing literally or physically, but I love the guy and I disagree with them. A lot of things. But I, I spend when I can, you know, time out in Cody, Wyoming with them and we, we laugh. I want to emphasize to you, humor is one of the greatest disinfectants. Always use humor.
Audience member 5: Professor Reich, some economists and historians would argue that the growth of the American economy between 1940 and 1980 is an historic anomaly that cannot be duplicated and that even with free markets around the world, the only way to do reintroduce fairness across the planet might be through the kind of democratic socialism which the Europeans adopted after World War Two. I’d like to hear you comment on that.
Reich: Well let me just repeat the question is, was the growth of the American economy between the end of the Second World War and the late seventies, a historic anomaly and that can’t be repeated. And to some extent there is evidence that it wasn’t almost that is watch the rest of the competitors of the world had been devastated by World War Two, but it’s not a zero sum contest. That is we rebuilt Europe. We rebuilt Japan at huge expense. And why did we do that? Not just to contain the Soviets, but we also did it because we understood that a rich and prosperous Europe and a rich and prosperous Japan would buy our goods and services and we could buy their goods and services and we could do better. All of us together. This is kind of a a non-zero sum attitude that the current administration seems to have forgotten.
My point being that we’ve had in history some periods of extraordinary growth actually from 1929 to 1938 was a period of extraordinary growth. People forget that during the depression up there was also a, there was a period of extraordinary growth that started right after 2009. I mean we’ve been in a huge growth spurt in a way.
So the issue is not growth or non growth. I think the issue is you put your finger on it. How do the fruits of that growth, how are they managed? How do we organize the economy so that more people get the benefits of that growth. And you mentioned democratic socialism and I in the spirit of trying to avoid labels, I’m going to translate that is thicker social safety nets and more public investment in education and healthcare and infrastructure and basic r and d. So everybody has more of a chance to get ahead. And I would say yes.
Well, you see my point is that if that is labeled democratic socialism, it has all the baggage associated with communism, socialism. Everybody gets starts talking about socialism. They don’t talk about what’s really at issue.
Audience member 6: The question is how do you organize and convince the Democratic Party that people have to get out there and talk to groups and tell people what the issues are? Because most people I’ve found in talking to them don’t know the issues. They don’t even know the policies. They don’t know that this is going to get cut and that’s going to get cut.
Reich: Here’s the thing. You’re very, very right. In the last midterm election in 2014, only 16 percent of young people between the ages of 18 and 29 bothered to vote. Only 16 percent. Now why only 16 percent? Well, you were young once and some of you voted, but I remember being 16 to 29 and you have your starting families and you’re starting businesses and you’re starting work and you’re out in the world and you don’t even know where to register and you don’t even know where your home is and it’s complicated and it’s not always your highest priority, but here’s the thing.
I have been teaching now for 35 years. The current generation of students, not just at Berkeley but all over the country because I do occasional guest lecturing, is the most committed, dedicated, involved, engaged generation of young people I have ever experienced.
Now they are cynical about politics. There’s no question about it, but I understand why they’re cynical about politics, but they want to improve the country. They want to improve their communities, and what I say to them is you can’t even begin to improve your communities or the country unless you have people in positions of power who you trust to do the right thing and you have an obligation. It’s a citizenship obligation. And I think all of us have to say that to our children and our grandchildren. Everybody in this room has to repeat that over and over to our children and grandchildren, and if you don’t have children, grandchildren find them.
Audience member 7: I’m, I’m just going to cut to my second question. Many of us grew up with this idea of an American creed and that more unites us than divides us. Do you still believe that?
Reich: Do I still believe the American creed that more unites us than divides us? Absolutely. Absolutely. I think once you get under the level of the talking heads and the politicians and the crazy, you know, the kind of yelling people and get out in the country. People agree more, much more than they disagree.
For example, one thing that I asked in my kind of free floating focus group, the last time I did this was just this week in Texas, earlier this week, near San Antonio and I was up in Dallas and I just find people and I’d say, I’m just curious. I’m just curious. Do you think that we should have a country in which if everybody who works full time should be out of poverty and you know, 95 percent of the people I asked that question to say yes, if you work full time, you should not be in poverty.
And there are many other principles that we all agree on. We don’t want an aristocracy. We don’t want a permanent group of people who have so much wealth and power that they can overwhelm our government with their money. We want big money out of politics. Actually, most people on both sides of the aisle in terms of average people want big money out of politics. And I could go on, but we don’t have time.
Audience member 8: I’ve been laughed out of several rooms for asking this question.
Reich: You will not be laughed out of this room.
Audience member 8: Oh wait till you hear the question. Okay. What would you think about random seating in the houses of Congress to mix it up, as you say and alleviate geographical tribalism?
Reich: Well, I think you just heard there was no laughter. You’re talking about random seating, not with random citizens, but random seating in terms of Democrats and Republicans. No aisles to cross. I like that. I, I can just a, and maybe this will be my last comment, the first State of the Union address that I actually attended officially when Bill Clinton was president.
I remember sitting there and the cabinet is in the front row and I looked at both sides of the aisle and as you know, in the state of the union, you’ve got the Senate and the House together in the House well. And I said to myself, why exactly what you’re asking, why is it that we take these sort of radical, radical sides? And one thing that was very clear to me, and I don’t mean to sound in any way partisan, this is a reflection of what actually was the case and is the case. When I looked over to the Republican side, almost every single person was white and male. When I went over to the Democratic side, there were at least some who weren’t. And I think that your idea is a good idea, but we also have got to make sure that all of us keep fighting for a congress and for an administration and for courts that look and not just look, but reflect the values of most of us. Thank you all.