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Wed, Nov

Biden on the Picket Line Is Good. But He Must Go Further

VOICES

LABOR WATCH - Kudos for joining the UAW picket line tomorrow. You’re the first president to ever join a picket line. 

But please don’t stop there. 

Go on to criticize the CEOs of America’s big corporations who are now raking in more than 350 times what the average American worker is earning (in the 1950s, they took in 20 times). 

Blast corporations that are monopolizing their industries. 

Condemn firms that are using their profits to buy back shares of stock, polluting the planet with carbon emissions and polluting our democracy with big money.

You won’t be the first Democratic president to do this.

On the eve of the 1936 election, President Franklin D. Roosevelt warned America that business and financial monopolies and war profiteers considered the U.S. government

“as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob. … Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred.”

America is again in a populist age, when a vast army of Americans have been shafted by big corporations, Wall Street, and the monied interests.

The biggest change over the last three decades — the change lurking behind the insecurities and resentments of the working middle class — has nothing to do with identity politics, “woke”ism, immigration, critical race theory, transgender kids, or any other current Republican bogeymen.

It has directly to do with a huge upward shift in the distribution of income and wealth.

Although total wealth is much greater now than it was four decades ago, the distribution of that wealth is far more unequal. The bottom 50 percent hasn’t budged. Wealth at the top has exploded.

Meanwhile, a declining share of the nation’s wealth has been going to workers, and an exponentially rising share to CEOs and big investors.

This change didn’t happen because of so-called “neutral market forces.” It happened because of policy decisions made over the last four decades. For example: 

To open the American economy wide to imports from China. To deregulate Wall Street and allow it to make bets with other people’s money.

To dramatically cut taxes on big corporations and the rich. To let corporations bash unions and fire workers who try to organize.

To encourage activist investors and private equity companies to take over “underperforming” companies and then promptly fire workers and sell off assets. To allow big corporations to become far larger, monopolizing entire industries.

To allow pharmaceutical companies to extend their patents and jack up the prices of critical drugs. To allow oil companies access to federal lands and to special tax write-offs. 

To bail out the biggest banks but not homeowners who get caught in the downdrafts. To privatize higher education and force students to take out massive loans. To encourage corporations to buy back their shares of stock rather than reinvest profits.

These policy decisions didn’t just happen, either. They were pushed by wealthy elites on Wall Street and in C-suites who made mammoth donations to politicians on both sides of the aisle — mostly but not exclusively Republican — to ensure that their wishes would be honored.

To your credit, you and most Democratic lawmakers in Congress have pushed for policies that will make the nation more equitable, such as child care and elder care subsidies, student loan forgiveness, and negotiated drug prices. Kudos. 

But you’re reluctant to blame CEOs, Wall Street moguls, and the super-rich for what’s happened.

Yet they are to blame, as are their lackeys in Washington. 

They have turned their growing wealth into increasing political power to change the rules of the game in ways that further enlarge their wealth and power, while shafting the bottom half.

Condemn them, as did FDR. Name the CEOs, leaders of finance, heads of pharmaceutical companies, defense contractors, internet moguls, and “activist” investors who have profited at the expense of the rest of America.

Be unambiguously on the side of workers in their struggle for better pay and working conditions.

Attack corporate welfare — the special tax loopholes, bank bailouts, unconditional subsidies, loan guarantees, and no-bid contracts that have lined the pockets of the wealthy, paid for by the rest of us.

Let Republicans criticize corporate “wokeness.” You should campaign against corporate greed.

Let Republicans obsess about critical race theory, immigration, and sex. You should campaign against how obscenely unfair and unequal America has become.

It’s good you’re joining the UAW picket line. But if you and other Democrats don’t tell the economic truth about what’s happened and place the blame squarely where it’s deserved, the lies of Republicans will fill the void.

(Robert Reich, is the Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and a senior fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. His book include: "Aftershock" (2011), "The Work of Nations" (1992), "Beyond Outrage" (2012) and, "Saving Capitalism" (2016). He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, former chairman of Common Cause, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and co-creator of the award-winning documentary, "Inequality For All." Reich's newest book is "The Common Good" (2019). He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.)