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Robert Reich: Hillary Clinton, Paul Ryan And The Crisis Of American Capitalism – OpEd

Paul Ryan, official portrait. Source: Wikipedia Commons.Paul Ryan, official portrait. Source: Wikipedia Commons.

Hillary Clinton won’t be the only winner when Donald Trump and his fellow haters are defeated on Election Day (as looks increasingly likely). Another will be Paul Ryan, who will rule the Republican roost.

Democrats may take back the Senate but they won’t take back the House. Gerrymandering has given House Republicans an impregnable fortress of safe seats.

This means that in order for President Hillary Clinton to get anything done, she’ll have to make deals with Speaker Paul Ryan.

While the Clinton-Ryan years won’t be marked by the same kind of petulant gridlock we’ve witnessed over the last eight, the ascendance of Ryan and Clinton will mark a win for big business and Wall Street over the strongest anti-establishment surge America has witnessed since Great Depression.

Clinton might be able to summon Ryan’s support on a “Buffet rule” for the highest-income taxpayers – an effective minimum tax of 30 percent on top incomes. She might also be able to wangle some additional spending on infrastructure and paid family leave.

But the price Ryan can be expected to exact will be lower corporate tax rates, along with a tax amnesty on corporate profits repatriated to the United States. And to offset the added spending and tax cuts, Ryan will probably want Clinton to trim Social Security (perhaps reviving the terrible idea of a “chained” CPI for determining cost of living increases), and slow the growth of Medicare.

None of this will do much to remedy the central economic challenge of our era – reversing the declining incomes and wealth of most Americans.

Although incomes rose in 2015, the typical household is still worse off today than it was in 2000, adjusted for inflation. The assets of the typical family today are worth 14 percent less than the assets of the typical family in 1984. And the typical job is less secure than at any time since the Great Depression.

These trends are not sustainable – neither economically nor politically. They generated the fury that’s undergirded Trump’s ugly campaign, and fueled the anger that propelled Bernie Sanders’s insurgency.

They’ve fed a growing sense that the political-economic system is rigged in favor of those at the top.

And it is. Big money has corrupted our democracy, resulting in laws and rules that systematically favor big corporations, Wall Street, and the very rich over everyone else.

Consider, for example, the growing market power of leading pharmaceutical companies, private health insurers, the biggest Wall Street banks, giant cable providers, four major airlines, and five largest high-tech companies. And the decreasing market power of unions.

The resulting imbalance is transferring money out of the pockets of average Americans directly into the pockets of major shareholders and top executives.

A similar upward distribution is occurring through bankruptcy laws that allow giant corporations and billionaires to avoid paying what they owe, yet don’t allow average people overburdened with mortgage or student debt to renegotiate those obligations.

Mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts with giant corporations are forcing people to give up rights under a wide variety of consumer and employment laws. Meanwhile, workers classified as “independent contractors” are losing whatever rights they once had under the nation’s labor laws.

In all these respects, the American political economy has become radically imbalanced.

The reforms Hillary Clinton and Paul Ryan are likely to agree to are miniscule compared with the scale of this imbalance.

Hopefully, the leaders of big business and Wall Street – the true winners of the 2016 election – will realize that although they avoided Trump’s authoritarian populism and Sanders’s “political revolution” this time around, they won’t for much longer.

The forces that gave rise to both will grow unless our political economy is rebalanced to work for everyone and not just for those at the top.

There is precedent. In the first decades of the twentieth century, enlightened business leaders joined with progressive reformers to rebalance American capitalism – thereby rescuing it from the savage inequalities and corruption of the Gilded Age.

If they understand what happened in the 2016 election, enlightened business leaders will do so once again.

About the Author

Robert Reich
Robert Reich
Robert B. 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, and Time magazine named him one of the 10 most effective cabinet secretaries of the 20th century. He has written 14 books, including the best-sellers Aftershock, The Work of Nations, Beyond Outrage and, most recently, Saving Capitalism. He is also a founding editor of The American Prospect magazine, 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.

1 Comment on "Robert Reich: Hillary Clinton, Paul Ryan And The Crisis Of American Capitalism – OpEd"

  1. Right, Hillary the revolutionary progressive president. What a joke. Now we all may have to continue suffering, because of the ineptness of the Republican & Democratic parties. We could have had a Sanders presidency, which might have inspired the over throwing of vested interests in Congress but the DNC stole that, plain and clearly. We may still yet have a Stein presidency. All that takes is for all independents, those students in debt and the so-called Millenial voters to take a stand for democracy. But Reich makes is sound so benign, and it’s hardly that! Between the policies that the Democratic Party supported at their convention and the statements made by Clinton, this country is truly going down the tubes. We will have much more fracking, and no reining in of big business let alone the banks. The military will not return from more than 7-800 overseas American bases. We will have the Trans Pacific Partnership, which means the loss of many more jobs, at a time when the Republican House will be reducing Medicare, Social Security, and support to the states for unemployment. In California, the unemployment offices get about $15,000 apiece per year for retraining as it is. Corporate lobbyists will still control Congress and they will support the retaining of private corporations running prisons. We will continue to have a militarized local police force all around the country and Native American lands will continue to be run roughshod over. Last but not the least, the things that were never brought up during the debates is the worsening climate, the Tepco nuclear power plant meltdown that has poisoned the entire Pacific Ocean with radiation, the major portions of forests burning for the past few years all over the country and the floods will continue. Thanks Democrats. It could have been great. Now it will just be hell.

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