Robert Reich: My Mother Was Wrong – OpEd


When I was young and frustrated about one thing or another, my mother reassured me that “everything works out in the end.”

The saying drove me nuts. “When is the end?” I’d ask her. “Next week? Next year? In a century? Do we just wait?”

Optimistic forecasts about anything often overlook damage that can occur in the meantime.

The famed British economist John Maynard Keynes once wrote, “in the long run, we’re all dead.” His point was that most people don’t care that the economy eventually will correct itself because people live today and often can’t afford to wait. 

This morning I heard a pundit on the radio declare with utter certainty that George Santos will resign. 

That’s an easy call. After all, 78 percent of Santos’ constituents say he should go. Even two-thirds of those who voted for him last November say they wouldn’t have if they’d known what they do now. His favorable rating in the district is a whopping 6 percent. 

But when will he resign? It makes a huge difference if an elected member of Congress who’s revealed to be an utter charlatan — who has lied to voters about almost every aspect of his background — resigns tomorrow or remains in office for another year or more. Every day that goes by with Santos still in Congress brings more disgrace upon our governing institutions, at a time when they’re already near rock bottom. 

I have the same concern with other upbeat predictions.

“Inflation is slowing,” they say. That’s nice, but it avoids the big underlying question: Will inflation slow quickly enough to stop the Fed from pushing America into a recession with ever higher interest rates? 

“Ukraine is winning,” they say. I’m glad. But the war is moving into its second year, and the real questions are how much of Ukraine and its people will be destroyed before Putin ends his attacks, and how close will we come to nuclear armageddon? 

“Trump will be prosecuted,” they say. Good. But when? I fear Special Counsel Jack Smith and his boss, Attorney General Merrick Garland, will wait until after the 2024 presidential election, which raises the horrific possibility that we might have to go through another four-year Trump presidency. 

And what about police violence and institutional racism? “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once assured us. 

But how long before it bends? How much more violence until then? How much more racism, xenophobia, misogyny, and homophobia?

And there are the climate crisis, widening inequality, attacks on democracy, and so much more. 

Look, I’m a cup-half-full kind of guy. I always hope for the best. 

The problem with my mother’s “everything works out in the end” optimism isn’t just that a lot can go wrong along the way. 

It also invites a naive fatalism, as if no action is necessary now because everything will be fine eventually. 

But rosy scenarios are dangerous bunk if they lead to passivity. 

So: Demand Trump be prosecuted. Take on the climate crisis. Support Ukraine. Don’t let the Fed push us into a recession. Fight for social justice. Get Santos way the hell out of Congress. 

And in all other respects, be an activist. You are needed. 

My mother was right about a lot of things. But she was wrong about this. Nothing important works out in the end unless we work hard for it now.

Robert Reich

Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and writes at Reich served as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration, for which Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written fifteen books, including the best sellers "Aftershock", "The Work of Nations," and"Beyond Outrage," and, his most recent, "The Common Good," which is available in bookstores now. 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." He's co-creator of the Netflix original documentary "Saving Capitalism," which is streaming now.

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