"HRC is the most qualified to head the political system we have. Bernie is the most qualified to create the political system we should have."
In other words, Bill Clinton's former Secretary of Labor also believes that America needs a political revolution — and that Bernie is the most qualified for the job. (Read more below.)
Here's what Robert Reich wrote at The Guardian today: Want to reverse sky-high inequality? Bernie Sanders is the pragmatic choice
The Democratic contest has repeatedly been characterized as a choice between Hillary Clinton’s “pragmatism” and Bernie Sanders’s “idealism” – with the not-so-subtle message that realists choose pragmatism over idealism. But this way of framing the choice ignores the biggest reality of all: the unprecedented, and increasing, concentration of income, wealth and power at the very top, combined with declining real incomes for most and persistent poverty for the bottom fifth.
The real choice isn’t “pragmatism” or “idealism.” It’s either allowing these trends to worsen, or reversing them. Inequality has reached levels last seen in the era of the “robber barons” in the 1890s. The only truly pragmatic way of reversing this state of affairs is through a “political revolution” that mobilizes millions of Americans.
Is such a mobilization possible? One pundit recently warned Democrats that change happens incrementally, by accepting half loaves as being better than none. That may be true, but the full loaf has to be large and bold enough in the first place to make the half loaf meaningful. And not even a half loaf is possible unless or until America wrests back power from the executives of large corporations, Wall Street bankers and billionaires who now control the bakery.
I’ve been in and around Washington for almost 50 years, including a stint in the cabinet, and I’ve learned that real change happens only when a substantial share of the American public is mobilized, organized, energized and determined to make it happen. That’s more the case now than ever.
The other day Bill Clinton attacked Sanders’s proposal for a single-payer health plan as unfeasible and a “recipe for gridlock.” But these days, nothing of any significance is politically feasible and every bold idea is a recipe for gridlock. This election is about changing the parameters of what’s feasible and ending the choke hold of big money on our political system. In other words, it’s about power – whether the very wealthy who now have it will keep it, or whether average Americans will get some as well.
How badly is political power concentrated in America among the very wealthy? A study published in the fall of 2014 by two of America’s most respected political scientists, Princeton professor Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page, suggests it’s extremely concentrated.
Gilens and Page undertook a detailed analysis of 1,799 policy issues, seeking to determine the relative influence on them of economic elites, business groups, mass-based interest groups and average citizens. Their conclusion was dramatic: “The preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically nonsignificant impact upon public policy.” Instead, Gilens and Page found that lawmakers respond almost exclusively to the moneyed interests – those with the most lobbying prowess and deepest pockets to bankroll campaigns.
I find it particularly sobering that Gilens and Page’s data came from the period 1981 to 2002. That was before the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United opinion, which opened the floodgates to big money in politics, and before the explosion of Super Pacs and secretive “dark money” whose sources do not have to be disclosed by campaigns. It stands to reason that if average Americans had a “near-zero” impact on public policy then, the influence of average Americans is now zero.
Most Americans don’t need a detailed empirical study to convince them of this. They feel disenfranchised, and angry toward a political-economic system that seems rigged against them. This was confirmed for me a few months ago when I was on book tour in America’s heartland, and kept hearing from people who said they were trying to make up their minds in the upcoming election between supporting Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump.
At first I was incredulous. After all, Sanders and Trump are at opposite ends of the political spectrum. It was only after several discussions that I began to understand the connection. Most of these people said they were incensed by “crony capitalism,” by which they meant political payoffs by big corporations and Wall Street banks that result in special favors such as the Wall Street bailout of 2008.
They wanted to close tax loopholes for the rich, such as the special “carried interest” tax break for hedge-fund and private-equity partners. They wanted to reduce the market power of pharmaceutical companies and big health insurers, which they thought resulted in exorbitant prices. They were angry about trade treaties that they characterized as selling-out American workers while rewarding corporate executives and big investors.
Somewhere in all this I came to see what’s fueling the passions of voters in the 2016 election. If you happen to be one of the tens of millions of Americans who are working harder than ever but getting nowhere, and you feel the system is rigged against you and in favor of the rich and powerful, you will go in one of two directions.
Either you will be attracted to an authoritarian bigot who promises to make America great again by keeping out people different from you and recreating high-paying jobs in America. Someone who sounds like he won’t let anything or anybody stand in his way, and who’s so rich he can’t be bought off.
Or you’ll be attracted to a political activist who tells it like it is, who has lived by his convictions for 50 years, who won’t take a dime of money from big corporations or Wall Street or the very rich, and who is leading a grass-roots “political revolution” to regain control over our democracy and economy. In other words, you will be enticed either by a would-be dictator who promises to bring power back to the people, or by a movement leader who asks you to join together with others to bring power back to the people.
Of the two, I would prefer the latter. But what about the “pragmatic” Hillary Clinton? I have worked closely with her and have nothing but respect for her. In my view, she’s clearly the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have.
But the political system we now have is profoundly broken. Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have because he’s leading a political movement for change.
* Also watch Robert Reich's short video on Facebook: Bernie skeptics
At the Washington Post: Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of the The Nation — the progressive magazine that endorsed Bernie Sanders — makes a case for Bernie Sanders and against Hillary in her most recent post "Bernie Sanders is the realist we should elect"...
Foreign policy is considered Hillary Clinton’s strength. When terrorism hits the headlines, she gains in the polls. Yet the worst calamity in U.S. foreign policy since Vietnam surely was George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq. Clinton voted for that war; Sanders got it right and voted against. Clinton has since admitted her vote was a “mistake” but seems to have learned little from that grievous misjudgment. As secretary of state, she championed regime change in Libya that left behind another failed state rapidly becoming a backup base for the Islamic State. She pushed for toppling Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war and lobbied for arming the Syrian opposition, a program that ended up supplying more weapons to the Islamic State than to anyone else. Now she touts a “no fly zone” in Syria, an idea that has been dismissed by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff as requiring some 70,000 troops to enforce, and by President Obama as well. People thinking with their heads rather than their hearts might well prefer Sanders’s skepticism about regime change to Clinton’s hawkishness.
The worst economic calamity since the Great Depression came when the excesses of Wall Street created the housing bubble and financial crisis that blew up the economy. Hillary Clinton touts her husband economic record, but he championed the deregulation that helped unleash the Wall Street wilding. The banks, bailed out by taxpayers, are bigger and more concentrated than they were before the crash. Someone using their head — not their heart — would want to make certain that the next president is independent of Wall Street and committed to breaking up the big banks and shutting down the casino. But Clinton opposes key elements of Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s (D-Mass.) rational reform agenda for the banks, and her money ties to Wall Street lead any rational observer to conclude she’s an uncertain trumpet for reform.
Americans continue to suffer from a broken heath-care system that costs nearly twice per capita as those in the rest of the industrialized world — with worse results. Obama’s health reforms have helped millions get health care — particularly through the expansion of Medicaid and by forcing coverage of pre-existing conditions. But millions continue to go without care, and millions more are underinsured and unable to afford decent coverage — and even more are gouged by drug companies and insurance companies that game the system’s complexities. Eventually the United States will join every other industrial nation with some form of simplified universal care. Sanders champions moving to “Medicare for all.” Clinton has mischaracterized his proposal, erroneously claiming it would “basically end all kinds of health care we know, Medicare, Medicaid, the Chip Program. It would take all that and hand it over to the states.” She says she would build on Obamacare but has yet to detail significant reforms that would take us closer to a rational health-care system. Sanders supported Obamacare but understands we can’t get to a rational health-care plan without leaders willing to take on the entrenched interests that stand in the way. It isn’t romantic to think that it is long past time for the United States to join every other industrial country and guarantee affordable health care for all.
Campaign Finance Reform
Hillary Clinton, like every Democratic politician, decries the big money that is corrupting our politics. But though she offers a reform agenda, she vacuums up big contributions and dark money in a complex of super PACs, saying she can’t “unilaterally disarm.” Sanders knows that the billionaires get what they pay for. He not only makes getting big money out of politics a centerpiece of his agenda, he has proved his commitment by refusing to set up a super PAC and raising his funds from millions of small donors, proving that he can raise enough to be competitive in the process. It isn’t romantic to think that this gives him the independence and credibility to actually reform the system if he is elected.
In the face of the Sanders surge, Hillary Clinton's supporters have resorted to the “electability argument”: that Sanders can’t be elected because he’s too far left. Put aside the irony of Clinton dismissing the electoral viability of someone she might lose to. Clinton has inevitable baggage of her own that raises doubts about her electoral prospects. And Clinton’s decision to present herself as the candidate of continuity in a time of change is problematic. In contrast, the positions Sanders champions — Medicare for All, cleaning up politics, curbing Wall Street, a less-interventionist foreign policy, rebuilding the United States, tuition-free college, fair taxes for the rich and corporations — are all extremely popular. Furthermore, Democrats have a natural electoral majority if they turn out. Even the Clinton campaign worries about her ability to rouse the young and people of color as Obama did. In contrast, Sanders has clearly electrified millennials with his message and integrity. A voter using his head rather than his heart might well be conflicted on the question of electability.
Getting to know Hillary Clinton's Economic Advisor Better
At The Nation: Robert Pollin gets into the weeds about Hillary Clinton's next economic advisor (her husband Bill Clinton) in his post "Clintonomics Was a Disaster for Most Americans"...
In trying to burnish her credentials as a can-do populist and to portray Bernie Sanders as a purveyor of naive socialist fantasies, Hillary Clinton has increasingly invoked Bill Clinton’s presidency as her economic policy lodestar. When Hillary was asked at the January 17 Democratic debate whether Bill Clinton would be advising her on the economy, she responded, “I’m going to have the very best advisers that I can possibly have, and when it comes to the economy and what was accomplished under my husband’s leadership in the ’90s—especially when it came to raising incomes for everybody and lifting more people out of poverty than at any time in recent history— you bet.”
There is no doubt that dramatic departures from past US economic trends occurred during Bill Clinton’s presidency, including the simultaneous fall of inflation and unemployment; the reversal of persistent federal budget deficits to three years of surplus at the end of his second term; and an unprecedented run up in stock prices—i.e., the “Dot.com” bubble. But these developments need to be evaluated in a broader context. Most importantly, we need to ask whether Clintonomics really did deliver the goods for working people and the poor.
The starting point for understanding Bill Clinton’s economic program is to recognize that it was thoroughly beholden to Wall Street, as Clinton himself acknowledged almost immediately after he was elected. Clinton won the 1992 election by pledging to end the economic stagnation that had enveloped the last two years of the George H.W. Bush administration and advance a program of “Putting People First.” This meant large investments in job training, education, and public infrastructure.
But Clinton’s priorities shifted drastically during the two-month interregnum between his November election and his inauguration in January 1993, as documented in compelling detail by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward in his 1994 book The Agenda. As Woodward recounts, Clinton stated only weeks after winning the election that “we’re Eisenhower Republicans here…. We stand for lower deficits, free trade, and the bond market. Isn’t that great?” Clinton further conceded that with his new policy focus, “we help the bond market, and we hurt the people who voted us in.”
How could Clinton have undergone such a lightening-fast reversal? The answer is straightforward, and explained with candor by Robert Rubin, who had been co-chair of Goldman Sachs before becoming Clinton’s Treasury secretary. Even before the inauguration, Rubin explained to more populist members of the incoming administration that the rich “are running the economy and make the decisions about the economy.”
Wall Street certainly flourished under Clinton. By 1999, the average price of stocks had risen to 44 times these companies’ earnings. Historically, stock prices had averaged about 14 times more than earnings. Even during the 1920s bubble, stock prices rose only to 33 times earnings right before the 1929 crash.
A major driver here was Wall Street’s craze for Internet start-ups. In 1999, for example, AOL’s market value eclipsed that of Disney and Time Warner combined, and Priceline.com’s value was double that of United Airlines. The Clinton team created the environment that encouraged such absurd valuations. Throughout the bubble years, Clinton’s policy advisers, led by Rubin and his then protégé Larry Summers, maintained that regulating Wall Street was an outmoded relic from the 1930s. They used this argument to push through the 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall financial regulatory system that had been operating since the New Deal. The Clinton team thus set the stage for the collapse of the Dot.com bubble and ensuing recession in March 2001, only two months after Clinton left office. They also created the conditions that enabled the even more severe bubble that produced the 2008 global financial crisis and Great Recession.
Clinton followed the same playbook in other areas. The federal budget shifted from deficits to surpluses under Clinton primarily because his administration allowed federal spending to decline as a share of overall GDP while the Wall Street bubble fueled economic growth. Reducing military spending sharply relative to GDP in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War certainly made sense. But cuts relative to GDP were substantial in other areas as well. Between 1992 and 2000, support for education decreased by 24 percent; science by 19 percent; income security by 18 percent; and transportation by 10 percent. These cuts directly contradicted the “Putting People First” principles that Clinton espoused in his 1992 campaign.
Clinton’s position on global trade was virtually identical to that of his Republican predecessors, proclaiming the universal virtues of free trade. Clinton moved quickly after taking office to push through the final passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that had been promoted by Presidents Reagan and Bush. It was clear then, and has been borne out with time, that the benefits from NAFTA would flow overwhelmingly to American businesses, while wages and bargaining power for American workers would suffer. The gestures Clinton made to labor and environmentalists during the NAFTA negotiations were almost completely empty of content.
Beyond NAFTA, the Clinton administration did almost nothing to support unions or working people generally. As longtime labor journalist David Moberg commented in 1999, “Clinton has probably identified less with organized labor than any Democratic president this century.” Of course, since unions provide major electoral backing for any Democratic president, their concerns could not be completely disregarded. Clinton thus supported a two‑step rise in the minimum wage in 1996‑97, from $4.25 to $5.15 an hour, the rate at which it remained for the rest of Clinton’s presidency. But this modest increment did little to reverse the precipitous fall in the real value of the minimum wage. At $5.15 when Clinton left office, the minimum wage was still 35 percent below its real value in 1968 even though the economy had become 81 percent more productive between 1968 and 2000.
Clinton supporters argue that, despite the low minimum wage, low-wage workers and their families received major benefits from the rise in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This program, which began under Gerald Ford in 1975 and expanded under Carter, Reagan, and Bush, provides income subsidies for low-wage workers. Clinton followed his predecessors by further increasing EITC funding. But at the same time, he dismantled the traditional welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. The overall amount of funds provided by the federal government for “family support” consequently rose by only a negligible amount.
Moreover, spending on food stamps and other nutritional assistance programs dropped sharply under Clinton, due to a large increase in the percentage of households who did not claim their benefits even though their income levels were low enough to qualify. Clinton’s campaign to “end welfare as we know it” was one major factor responsible for this pattern. His attack on the welfare system created both a stigma for public assistance recipients and greater practical difficulties for them to receive support. Under the pre-Clinton welfare system, a high proportion of recipients took their food stamps and cash assistance at the same time. Under Clinton, the pressures on private soup kitchens and food pantries increased dramatically.
The unemployment rate did begin falling after Clinton took office in 1993, reaching a 31-year low of 4 percent in 2000. But this growth in job opportunities resulted primarily from a major expansion in household and business spending tied to the stock-market bubble. A run-up in both household and business indebtedness financed this spending boom. Unemployment started rising again soon after the bubble burst, and the debt-financed expansion collapsed in March 2001.
In combination, Clinton’s policies on trade, labor, minimum wage, and family assistance help explain why inflation did not increase when unemployment fell. According to standard economic thinking, workers’ bargaining power rises when unemployment declines. This should enable workers to push their wages up. Businesses then try to raise prices to cover their increased labor costs, producing rising inflation. This scenario did not play out under Clinton. The reason was explained clearly at the time by then Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan, who observed that workers had become “traumatized” by the pressures of globalization, technical change, and an unfavorable bargaining climate. Current Fed chair Janet Yellen similarly observed in September 1996, as a then-member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, that “while the labor market is tight, job insecurity also seems alive and well. Real wage aspirations appear modest, and the bargaining power of workers is surprisingly low.”
What was Clinton’s overall record with respect to improving living standards for working people and the poor? During the eight full years of Clinton’s presidency, the average real wage for non-supervisory workers, at $13.60 an hour (in 2001 dollars), was 2 percent lower than the average under Reagan and Bush and nearly 10 percent less than under Jimmy Carter’s “years of malaise.” The average individual poverty rate under Clinton, at 13.2 percent of the population, was modestly better than the 14 percent rate under Reagan and Bush. But it was worse than the 11.9 percent figure that was maintained, on average, under Nixon and Ford, as well as Carter.
In sum, Bill Clinton’s presidency accomplished almost nothing to improve conditions for working people and the poor on a sustained basis. Gestures to the poor and working class were slight and back-handed, while wages for the majority remained below their level of a generation prior. Wealth at the top exploded with the Wall Street bubble. But the stratospheric rise in stock prices and the debt-financed consumption and investment booms produced a mortgaged legacy. The financial unraveling began even as Clinton was basking in praise for his economic stewardship. Throughout the current presidential campaign, this reality needs to be recognized every time Hillary Clinton invokes her husband’s record as a compelling argument for supporting her own candidacy.
Congratulations President Sanders!