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Excerpt: "Fairness isn't inconsistent with growth; it's essential to it. The only way the economy can grow and create more jobs is if prosperity is more widely shared."

Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)
Portrait, Robert Reich, 08/16/09. (photo: Perian Flaherty)

Obama Must Explain Fairness Is Essential to Growth

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich's Blog

24 May 12


he Cory Booker imbroglio has ignited a silly but potentially pernicious debate in the Democratic Party between so-called “pro-growth centrists” who want the President to focus on how well he’s done getting the economy back on its feet after the Bush administration almost knocked it out, and “pro-fairness populists” who want him to focus on the nation’s widening inequality and Wall Street’s (and Romney’s) continuing role in generating profits for a few at the expense of almost everyone else.

According to the National Journal’s Josh Kraushaar, for example:

Conversations with liberal activists and labor officials reveal an unmistakable hostility toward the pro-business, free-trade, free-market philosophy that was in vogue during the second half of the Clinton administration….. Moderate Democratic groups and officials, meanwhile, privately fret about the party’s leftward drift and the Obama campaign’s embrace of an aggressively populist message… [T]hey wish the administration’s focus was on growth over fairness.

This is pure bunk – or should be.

Fairness isn’t inconsistent with growth; it’s essential to it. The only way the economy can grow and create more jobs is if prosperity is more widely shared.

The key reason why the recovery is so anemic is so much income and wealth are now concentrated at the top is America’s the vast middle class no longer has the purchasing power necessary to boost the economy.

The richest 1 percent of Americans save about half their incomes, while most of the rest of us save between 6 and 10 percent. That shouldn’t be surprising. Being rich means you already have most of what you want and need. That second yacht isn’t nearly as exciting as was the first.

It follows that when, as now, the top 1 percent rakes in more than 20 percent of total income - at least twice the share it had 30 years ago - there’s insufficient demand for all the goods and services the economy is capable of producing at or near full employment. And without demand, the economy doesn’t grow or generate nearly enough jobs.

Wall Street is part of the problem because it’s responsible for so much of the concentration of income and wealth at the very top – and for much of the distress still felt in the rest of the economy after the Street nearly melted down in 2008.

The Street has turned a significant part of the economy into a giant casino involving mammoth bets with other peoples’ money. When the bets go well, the rich owners of the casino (Wall Street executives, traders, hedge-fund managers, private-equity managers) become even richer. When the bets go sour, the rest of us bear the costs.

The casino also requires continuous transfers of wealth from ordinary taxpayers. Some are built into the tax code. One is the preference of debt over equity (interest on debt is tax deductible), which awards Wall Street banks like JPMorgan for risky lending and awards private-equity firms like Bain Capital for piling debt on the firms it buys.

Another is the “carried interest” rule that, absurdly, allows private-equity managers (like Mitt Romney) to treat their income as capital gains even when they haven’t risked any of their money.

The biggest of all is the invisible guarantee that if the biggest banks get into trouble, taxpayers will bail them out. This subsidy reduces the big banks’ cost of capital relative to other banks and fuels even more risky lending.

None of this is fair. It’s also bad for economic growth and jobs – as we’ve so painfully witnessed.

Translated into presidential politics, all this means the President should be talking about fairness and growth and jobs, and explaining why we can’t have the latter without the former.

It also means he should be attacking Mitt Romney because Romney is part of the system of casino capitalism that has harmed America and held back growth - and Romney wants even less regulation of Wall Street (he’s vowed to repeal Dodd-Frank).

And because the budget Romney has put forth would gut public services vital to the middle class and poor, while cutting taxes on the rich and on corporations even more than they’ve already been cut.

In other words, Romney epitomizes the unfairness of the American economy in this new Gilded Age. For that same reason, Romney is the quintessence of an economic approach shown to be anti-growth and anti-jobs.

Robert Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written thirteen books, including "Locked in the Cabinet," "Reason," "Supercapitalism," "Aftershock," and his latest e-book, "Beyond Outrage." His 'Marketplace' commentaries can be found on and iTunes. your social media marketing partner


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+28 # Barbara K 2012-05-24 11:20
It is so true. We must have fairness. We should not fall victims to the wealthy and be nothing but pawns. We need fairness in every segment, fair pay, equal opportunity. We should all have a chance to succeed in this country. Bring back fairness.
+14 # John Locke 2012-05-24 12:35
The only way that will ever happen is through a real revolution! How likely is that?

The system was always rigged! Do you think people Like Rockefeller, the Bush family and Dupont got their wealth from working hard?
+13 # KittatinyHawk 2012-05-24 14:04
A percentage of families who are rich actually got their hands dirty. Unfortunately after that they got lawyers who taught them how to get down and dirty.

Rockefellers...some actually felt the pain of the richness, tried to do good. I knew a lot of good people, it is their lazy, greedy heirs that tested the water to do what they could. I know lot of scum that are in middle and poor class.
Evil doesnot know classes, it works everywhere.
+5 # John Locke 2012-05-24 18:23
KittatinyHawk: The people at the very top, never got their hands dirty, Tockefeller controlled the stock market and wipoed out his friends...they are all dirty!
0 # MidwestTom 2012-05-25 10:21
John Kerry married his>
+1 # John Locke 2012-05-25 12:21
The marriage was arranged, he was Skull and Bones
-1 # RLF 2012-05-25 05:05
Problem is the president is a rich man...part of the 1% and will do ANYTHING to hang on to it for his lovely daughters so they can be useless rich shits.
+24 # dfvboulder 2012-05-24 11:56
OBAMA needs to explain this?

Well, yes, but where have all the econimists been from Day 1?

This is such a painfully obvious concept, but it's only been recently that it has gotten any play.

Yeah, there's been a lot of hand-wringing about the unfairness of income inequality. But all the Righties had to say to that was, "So? Capitalism is not fair." End of discussion.

Whatever the reasons, it's about time we got to this pragmatic point: It's not just unfair, IT DOESN'T WORK. Beginning of discussion...
+14 # economicminor 2012-05-24 12:58
and it doesn't work but do you think any of those who benefit care enough to even realize how unfair the system has become.. They can't or their heads would explode.

Their response isn't just that Capitalism is not fair but that they would crush you and the system if you threaten their way of life.

The majority are being blackmailed and threatened with irreparable harm if anyone even talks of meaningful change...
+15 # AMLLLLL 2012-05-24 13:32
I hear economists from time to time, but you're right on with this one. They need to gang up and make a splash.

I caught John Stockman on a Fox segment, and he told the truth, and they yelled him down.

They won't listen to Reich or Krugman who have been vilified for speaking out, but they might listen to people like Stockman and other economists on the right who see the light.
+1 # Regina 2012-05-26 12:53
The economists are present -- read Krugman every week and Stiglitz whenever he publishes. It's the old Laffer gang that makes us cry -- they're the ones who came up with the nutty "trickle-down" bilge.
+5 # Garrett Connelly 2012-05-24 12:02
Yes, a sustainable civilization and the very survival of our specie both depend upon an expanded vision of justice; one that includes justice for all who are living, justice for those yet to be born, and justice for all living creatures and the planet itself.

Capitalist economists delude themselves and everyone when they attempt to link fairness and justice with the need for capitalism to grow forever on a finite planet. Fairness has nothing to do with growth.

Capitalist economists are telling us that we live in a world where corporatists grow our economy and we can have jobs, working for them. Our scientists and mathematicians tell us life speed may well be far faster than the speed of light, and accelerating. Capitalist economists preach unending material growth which is destroying the planet to a civilization blasting through the cosmos at life speed, such a goal is as illusory as a deranged ego attempting to own infinity. The foible of capitalism unrestrained by the wisdom of democratic civilization is slavery to faster and faster material growth forever, to infinity, on one small and beautiful planet.

Modern democracy includes the economy and the idea of growth will evolve to be based upon quality rather than quantity or we will go extinct. A fifteen hour work week with a livable wage is a good place to start on full employment. From there we must examine industrial agriculture.
+8 # economicminor 2012-05-24 13:12
Just wait until the consequences of unfunded mandates and unfunded promises destroys first local, then state and finally the federal government's balance sheets. It is coming. In some states it is already there. Look at California to see the future. The education lending bubble is a result of cost shifting and is just another example of unfunded promises gone viral. Again!

I agree that we need fairness but we need justice first.

But anyone that thinks that re-balancing the system is not going to be extremely painful is delusional. The US has been living in la la land since the Vietnam War. We have, for all this time, put off doing the right thing using a promise or an obligation for the future..

Well guess what folks, the future is here the US is only slightly better off than Greece. We don't print our own money either. We borrow it into existence. What happened to Greece was the interest rates went up and crushed them... What is happening here is the cost of living is going up and crushing the middle class. Different mechanism, same story. Living beyond your means has consequences.
+14 # James Marcus 2012-05-24 12:08
Fairness? You must be dreaming!
You think the perpetrators of Iraq, Afghanistan, NDAA Homeland 'Security' (or is it 'Homeland Terrorism'), Constitutional Destruction, and The Bailout think in 'Fairness terms?
Perhaps, in terms of 'Doublespeak' only. Talk 'fairness', (endlessly), to pacify, engage in 'debate', etc.;
but Act Ruthlessly. These people kill for no reason but money (which is their measure of 'success').
Fairness? HA!
+10 # BradFromSalem 2012-05-24 12:26
The question that must be asked of Mitt Romney is how does he plan to grow the economy?

Will he recreate his attempts to grow jobs in MA? Or does he plan to follow the Bain plan.
+16 # jwb110 2012-05-24 12:35
Quoting LiberalLibertarian:
The question that must be asked of Mitt Romney is how does he plan to grow the economy?

Will he recreate his attempts to grow jobs in MA? Or does he plan to follow the Bain plan.

The question isn't "how" Romney will grow the economy but for "whom."
+12 # BradFromSalem 2012-05-24 12:57
The how answers the who question. Take a look at his so-called education plan he released yesterday, it benefits banks and corporate education (Charter schools); while weakening teachers involvement in tghe actual education that is going on.
+12 # tswhiskers 2012-05-24 12:48
I think the national media need to start explaining what is really happening in the U.S. economy and politics. For several decades the media e.g. The Newshour on PBS seem to think all they need to do is to present 2 sides of an issue, the conservative side and the progressive side and their job is done. BULL****! People need to hear, not just once or twice but often, what is really going on. That is to say, after all the hot air politics is done, what really are the Rep and Dem policies and what do they really mean when they are stripped of the political spin. Rachel Maddow and Ed on MSNBC do the best job of this that I've seen, but they are avowedly liberal and so I suspect that many people would not trust them. C-SPAN and PBS let pols state their positions and "facts" without questioning them very much. The closest I've seen to honest reporting is the work done by Kathleen Hall Jamieson for Bill Moyers and PBS. I love her but I don't see her very often.
+1 # JSRaleigh 2012-05-26 07:20
Quoting tswhiskers:
I think the national media need to start explaining what is really happening in the U.S. economy and politics.

The national media have been captive to the 1% since Reagan was in office. There is no "fairness". The media are controlled by the corporations, and are going to tell the people exactly what the corporations want them to hear. News has become just another form of deceptive advertising.
+6 # BradFromSalem 2012-05-24 12:53
At some point, Obama has to get up in front of the American public and explain it fairness and growth.

We have a country of 202 people, and a total wealth of $2,002,000.00

Two of the people each have 1 Million dollars each, the rest each have 1 Hundred Dollars, plus some change.

The country across the border has 202 people and the same total wealth. Each person there has over 9 Thousand dollars EACH.
Assume living costs are equal.

Each person in the second country can afford to buy a new shirt every month, but in the first country each person has to wait for around 90 years to save up enough to buy a new shirt.

Which country will have a larger economy in 90 years?

This country has more wealth than any other country. a tax policy that tilts towards equalization will create growth.

The cartoon example I just gave makes it obvious.
+4 # Bodiotoo 2012-05-24 13:05
If you play poker you understand the concept very clearly. Chips move right, around the table and into th erabiit hole (the rake)...Table may have a winner or two, but the house (Wall Street) always wins...and the table needs a constant influx of new players (the suckers bringing the cash to the table)...and eventually most of the chips are down the rabbit hole (the drop box) with those couple of lucky players that were smart enough to get up and take "thier winnings" off the table before they got to the drop box.
At least in poker you have a chance, but can expect to leave your cash behind.
+9 # Listner 2012-05-24 13:07
People need to continually point out that Mittens Romney has an offshore bank account for the purpose of NOT PAYING TAXES IN THIS COUNTRY.
Even dumb righties ought to be offended by this.
Fairness, really, fairness ?????
+10 # BradFromSalem 2012-05-24 13:31

The Righties think that anything you do to avoid paying taxes is the best think possible. They honestly believe that it is exclusively their money and that the government is stealing it via the tax code. Fairness to them is getting to keep as much as they are paid and then proclaim that the free market put it in their pocket.

They are insane, they believe there is a magical invisible hand that is connected to an invisible brain which justly determines each persons worth.

Fairness to the righties is the same as believing in fairies.
+3 # bluepilgrim 2012-05-24 17:11
'Fair' to the righties is often a code word for flat taxes, 'free trade' and 'free markets' and dog-eat-dog.

If those were enacted the right and the capitalists would say "Well, that's fair'. The media would second it, and the owrd would join the list of those co-opted and redefined.
-15 # Robt Eagle 2012-05-24 13:19
This is total garbage. Seems to me that folks like Barbara Striesand, Robert Redford, Madonna, etc. should kick in more of their wealth in taxes to equalize the poor and middle class who have nothing, eh? Yeah, yeah, let's go after all the baseball and basketball players. Hey, don't stop there, let's go after all the reace car drivers, and the super wealthy like Tom Cruise, Will Smith, and all those TV actors who have all the fact let's go after the money of all those living in Hollywood who have McMansions. Tax the crap out of them. Why, because the poor and the middle class have suffered at their making so much money off of our spending it to watch them and their talents. How about all the rappers whose music has made them so rich. Come on, get real...
+16 # BradFromSalem 2012-05-24 14:20

The folks you mention are a great example of why we need a tax system that creates equilibrium in the economy. The truth is that America's wealth belongs to all of us. Individuals get to keep a portion based on how the market place values their contribution to that wealth. On the other hand, the market place is not based on any metrics that measures that value, so we need to create balance. The tax system is a very efficient way to go about it. A simplified Progressive tax code is the ideal solution.
It won't perfectly address the injustice of Tom Cruise earning more than a nurse; but it will help by providing for her health care and the education of her children. It will make sure the unemployed don't starve or freeze in winter.

That is what fairness means.

Taxes are to pay for our common safety (police and military) and our common welfare (health care and education) and a survival baseline for everyone (shelter for the homeless and food for the hungry).

Hoarding wealth is destructive to all the good that wealth can do when it is shared.
+5 # amye 2012-05-24 13:30
At some point the rich cannot possibly continue to get richer without an expanding economy! Oh, wait, China is expanding, India has only begun to grow, and last, but not least Africa will boom economically before poor, old Americans, English, Greeks, and many other European countries like Spain, Ireland, Italy, etc. will ever get back on their feet again! It will be a very long depressed business cycle before the prosperity of once great countries will arise again! This my prediction as a humble business/market ing woman. I wish I were an may carry some more weight! Will anyone challenge me? Educate me?
+4 # KittatinyHawk 2012-05-24 14:18
I hope Africa has good leaders who learn from our stupidity...we didn't learn from Europe or others

India, well, I do not know if they are on the right track or on ours. But like China they do not seem to have respect for others. I have seen much disrespect over 40 years to each other due to class bs. Here, we give them but too many treat us with disdain. We do not deserve that after giving them education and loans to set up business.

I feel if you do not like us...stay in Your Own it up from within.

We can change things, but what I see on sites like this, is why America does not grow too much hate, too much lies, too much everything but working together. People, snipers pick people off when they do not work together. Until we learn to do so, and we asked in sixties to keep it together, work towards mutual kinship and instead we were laughed at, scorned. What do you have now? Yuppies and phony religious just fed the Government and Evil Corporations and still are. Driving around with a Bumper sticker saying you bought a bumper sticker doesnot make you real.

Economists, Lawyers, Teachers, Government all read you...they tell you what you want to hear....then you stick your head int the sand believing every word. there is time to join the movement, start your own...but sitting on here everyday means you are doing absolutely many people are you actually reaching?
+2 # bluepilgrim 2012-05-24 17:20
There are two ways to look at wealth in this context: the amount of money the rich have and the percentage of wealth they have.

There is no limit to the amount of money which can be created because it doesn't have to be tied to real wealth (debt overhang for derivatives is perhaps $1.2 quadrillion now). If more money is created and it goes to the rich, virtual inflation, then the share of wealth shifts to the rich.

For the wealthy to hoard 100% is impractical since everyone else would be dead, but they can go from, say, %50 to %60, or %75, or whatever, until they OWN everything, without hoarding it -- putting the world in debt to them for the next 1,000 years (instead of only the next 20 years of production, which is what the overhang implies). This does not require expanding the economy -- just shifting it. Already huge portions have shifted well beyond expansion.
+1 # BradFromSalem 2012-05-25 08:08
Well said!

You call it shifting, I call it robbery. The difference is, you are being polite.
-13 # brucbaker 2012-05-24 14:00
As unfair as it might sound ... if the government is taking less, and more people are working .. THEN and only then when Prosperity returns can you put SOME fairness back into the system. Why?... Because every time government meddles in the private sector .. we lose jobs, we lose income... we lose sources that fill the coffers of State and Federal Government.

GET A CLUE ... when there ARE enough Jobs ... you can GET A JOB ANYWHERE... unlike now with the Democrats in Charge of Congress since 2007 killing jobs and Obama agenda based upon Saul Alinsky / Cloward and Pivens .. the strategy to destroy Capitalism and install .. the Socialism Fairness? Yeah, this Fairness crap .. is KILLING PROSPERITY IN THE USA!
+10 # BradFromSalem 2012-05-24 14:49
Is the government a black hole? Does money the government takes in as taxes disappear from circulation?

Lets play along and agree that government is very, very corrupt, stupid, and inefficient as well. So for every dollar it collects, 1/4th goes to the corrupt Congressperson, 1/4 is wasted on stupid projects like bridges to nowhere, and 1/4 goes to inefficient redundant processes, and lastly 1/4 goes to inefficient redundant processes.

I don't see the money disappearing. I see the Congressman going on nice vacations to Disneyworld spending that stolen money on local vendors. The Bridge to nowhere creates jobs for people who buy more pizza at the local pizza shop. And, lastly the ineficient redundant process creates twice as much work for government workers that can now buy two drinks after work at the local bar.

So, explain again how money in the public sectors disappers and cannot create any jobs, but in the private sector where more and more money stays at the top of the business pyramid more jobs will be created? I must have been sick the day they covered government sponsored black holes in grade school.
-1 # bluepilgrim 2012-05-24 17:21
Tell that to FDR.
+2 # Innocent Victim 2012-05-25 07:34
No, tell it to the hundreds of thousands saved from starvation by FDR's policies during the 1930s! If they are still alive they'll tell you a thing or two that you need to know.
-1 # engelbach 2012-05-25 07:32
I feel for you, as you're in a minority on this blog.

It's not he government that has amassed the country's wealth, but the wealthy at the top who control the government.

The Democrats have done a terrible job -- because they have capitulated to the even worse GOP on every important issue, including the economy.

But just to be clear: the administration hasn't done enough to create jobs -- such as a federal jobs program -- but it has not killed jobs. It has merely sat on its hands and allowed the right to grow stronger and able to block any attempt to create jobs.
+1 # pbbrodie 2012-05-25 11:20
Aren't you forgetting something? It was the Bush administration that had a net loss of jobs and the Obama administration has been creating jobs, slowly but increasing none the less.
It was the policies of the Bush administration that tanked our economy, not Obama. President Obama inherited this boondoggle from Bush. You have your facts all bass ackwards!!!
+6 # KittatinyHawk 2012-05-24 14:01
Equality is no good unless it is accross the Board. Ask the Corporate Leeches how they have liked their equality all these years.
Fairness that is a weak term. It is like depends on everyone.

Equality That lies in Our Laws both Church and State and I see no one upholding them. Holding their Hands out for more money but no one is administering Equality. I thought we were built on it. I thought Creation depended on it.

Fairness that can be read too many ways.

Democrats are not dolling out Fairness, or equality...time you start going to the doors of your Representatives with the Constitution in front. Going to you Church/Temple/S ynagogue with Bible,Koran etc and start demanding them to work for God, Allah, Creator not for Greed.

Then tell me about Fairness...Grad e School Kid knows the difference of fair and not....adults do not care.

Demand Equality Gay Marriage is let's follow thru on all Bills, Laws, and let us use Equal, Equality...stro ng word, needs Support from everyone esp those who do nothing but come on these sites.
+6 # suzyskier 2012-05-24 14:52

Have you already forgotten the Bush/Cheney administration? ? Blaming the Dems is not the answer here. And I would rather be leaning towards socialism than Fascism, which is when business and government become emeshed like what the Repugs are trying to do. Fascism never works for Freedom.
0 # engelbach 2012-05-25 07:35
The Dems are not leaning towards socialism. They're as far to the right as I can ever remember.

They are fuly to blame. The GOP is the known enemy of the working class. The Dems, as their avowed friend, has deserted them.

In a war, blaming the enemy does not win battles. If your generals won't fight, they are the ones to blame.

Labor Party 2016.
+4 # Utopia Bold 2012-05-24 15:17
Regarding fairness or unfairness regarding "growth"

Growth IS the problem. It no longer works because the human population has surpassed Earth's carrying capacity at 7 BILLION. ALL the sea's fisheries are either depleted or becoming so.

Fertile farmland is becoming sterile and topsoil is being lost. So as the human population grows, each person is having less land available to grow the food to survive.

The Living World is being killed by human activity and we are now in the 6th greatest wave of extinction since the dinosaurs.

The only hope is for ALL the worlds women to have economic and reproductive freedom, free from mandated or socially coerced pregnancy.

Endless growth on a finite planet is a concept most economists do not get. You dont have to be a genius to figure out that if there is only so much food (Earths entire production) and too many people, there WILL be famine and social chaos. Not to mention global warming and ocean acidification. When the oceans die, we all die.
0 # Garrett Connelly 2012-05-24 22:03
Seven billion can easily fit if being a happy prosperous human having fun being alive is enough.
-1 # engelbach 2012-05-25 07:37
The earth is a very large place, and it has moe than enough resources to not only sustain the human population, but make it thrive.

All that is lacking is the application of human ingenuity to that end, rather than towards the obscene enrichment of the few.
+1 # Innocent Victim 2012-05-25 08:20
Don't worry about it! When Fukushima pool number 4 spills off the crumbling top of its earthquake shaken building, the radiation that will spread over the northern hemisphere will reduce the population sharply.
+1 # Rick Levy 2012-05-25 00:05
Almost always the ones who tell the downtrodden that life isn't fair are the ones to whom it's been the fairest.
-2 # Innocent Victim 2012-05-25 07:22
Why RSN keeps featuring Robert Reich and Paul Krugman, I could not guess! I am reminded of the Vietnam War slogan, that no one over 50 can be trusted. If one substitutes "no one in the mainstream" can be trusted, the slogan would apply to those two journalistic economists.

Neither one mentions military spending which amounts to (as an RSN commentator made clear) about 50% of our discretionary budget. The pair are supposed to be economists, yet they avoid this drain on our revenues (and borrowing). I am not referring to the morality of lawfulness of our military activities; just their cost to our society and the benefit (or detriment) they produce. Those are proper economic matters.

Reich and Krugman are intellectual cowards!

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