We can’t grow our way into an equitable economy

Former U.S. Secretary of Labor under Clinton Robert Reich has a column from earlier this week on the unequal recovery.

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Luxury retailers are smiling. So are the owners of high-end restaurants, sellers of upscale cars, vacation planners, financial advisors, and personal coaches. For them and their customers and clients the recession is over. The recovery is now full speed.

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But the rest of America isn’t enjoying an economic recovery. It’s still sick. Many Americans remain in critical condition.

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The Commerce Department reported Thursday that the economy grew at a 3 percent annual rate last quarter (far better than the measly 1.8 percent third quarter growth). Personal income also jumped. Americans raked in over $13 trillion, $3.3 billion more than previously thought.

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Yet it’s almost a certain[t]y that all the gains went to the top 10 percent, and the lion’s share to the top 1 percent. Over a third of the gains went to 15,600 super-rich households in the top one-tenth of one percent.

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He goes on to cite a lot of compelling statistics to demonstrate that the very wealthiest are the only ones making any progress and that basically everyone else is continuing to fall behind. He reaches the major thrust of his column in its last paragraph:

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We can’t possibly grow faster if the vast majority of Americans, who are still losing ground, don’t have the money to buy more of the things American workers produce. There’s no way spending by the richest 10 percent – the only ones gaining ground – will be enough to get the economy out of first gear.

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Reich doesn’t come out and say this specifically in the column, but the conclusion is implicit: we aren’t going to have the economy we deserve until we use democracy to redistribute the wealth. This can be done a number of ways, but on the top of the list comes re-unionizing the American workforce which Congress can facilitate by passing the Employee Free Choice Act. (Shout out to the Lexington sanitation workers!) Furthermore, the federal government should implement a new wave of universal social programs (extend Medicare to everybody, free or nominal tuition for all students, etc) and a robust federal jobs program paid for by progressive taxation.

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Needless to say, none of this can happen without us getting organized. It was a broad array of little-d democratic social movements that gave FDR the oomph and chutzpah he needed to enact the New Deal.  So, um, get on that guys.

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