We Are Disillusioned, Frustrated, Angry Cynics (Yes, True)
Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has a new ebook out — Beyond Outrage: What has gone wrong with our economy and our democracy, and how to fix them — and he took to Reddit to answer some questions about it, and anything. His responses make for a good cheat sheet to The Issues of the Day. Some highlights:
On where we are at this moment exactly:
I think we’re approaching the tipping point. The real problem is cynicism. Most people know the system isn’t working right, that it’s tilted in favor of people with lots of wealth and power. But they don’t believe anything can be done to change the system. It’s the when cynicism turns to hope — fueled by outrage — that social change occurs.
I worry that so many Americans have become so disillusioned, frustrated, and angry — they feel they’ve done everything they were supposed to do yet are falling further and further behind — that they’re easy pickings for demagogues (on the right or the left) offering easy solutions and ready scapegoats (immigrants, public employees, unionized workers, foreigners, the poor, the rich, etc.)
On the stigma of receiving government assistance:
First, most people have become so accustomed to safety nets like Social Security, Medicare, and government-subsidized mortgage loans that they don’t even see it as government action. (Remember the Tea Partiers who demonstrated against Obama-care, carrying signs reading “Don’t Take Away My Medicare”?). Second, I think the typical American is genuinely frustrated and angry about his or her economic predicament (see my comment above), and is easily persuaded that government (or someone else who gets direct government assistance) is to blame. Third, many of us forget that we or a member of our own family could become needy. We assume the needy are “them” rather than “us.” We’re wrong, of course.
On how he’d change the American tax code:
I’d raise taxes at the top (matching capital gains with taxes on ordinary income) and create more brackets at the top. So, for example, income over $1 million would be taxed at 70 percent (don’t freak out — the highest marginal tax rate was above 70 percent for forty years before 1981); income between $500K and $1 million would be taxed at 60 percent; income between $250K and $500K would be taxed at 45 percent; income between $100K and $250K would be taxed at 30 percent, and income between $50K and $100K would be taxed at 20 percent. Below that, I wouldn’t impose a tax. In fact, I’d begin to phase in an Earned Income Tax Credit — a reverse income tax. Between $40K and $50K, the EITC would provide $5K. Between $25K and $40K, it would provide $8K. Between $10K and $25K it would provide $10K. What do you think?
On why Bill O’Reilly called him a communist:
O’Reilly didn’t call me a “communist” because he has a problem with communism. I doubt he even knows what communism is. Hell, how many true communists are left in the world? He uses the term as an insult, the equivalent in his mind of “asshole.”
On student loans:
The rate will essentially double July 1 unless Congress and the President take action. It’s another showdown. Republicans say the country can’t afford the $6 billion a year tab, but at the same time their budget gives trillions of dollars in tax breaks to millionaires. Obama is ready to extend the low-interest student loan but can’t without the votes. A good issue to get outraged about (and get beyond outrage and do something about).
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