Monday, January 27, 2014

Robert Reich Asks - Where's the Revolution?

Former Clinton labour secretary and UC Berkley prof and film maker Robert Reich ponders why in hell middle class Americans haven't taken to the streets with pitchforks and torches.

Middle incomes are sinking, the ranks of the poor are swelling, almost all the economic gains are going to the top, and big money is corrupting our democracy. So why isn’t there more of a ruckus?

The answer is complex, but three reasons stand out.

First, the working class is paralyzed with fear it will lose the jobs and wages it already has.

...No one has any job security. The last thing they want to do is make a fuss and risk losing the little they have.

Besides, their major means of organizing and protecting themselves — labor unions — have been decimated. Four decades ago more than a third of private-sector workers were unionized. Now, fewer than 7 percent belong to a union.

Second, students don’t dare rock the boat.

In prior decades students were a major force for social change. They played an active role in the Civil Rights movement, the Free Speech movement, and against the Vietnam War.

But today’s students don’t want to make a ruckus. They’re laden with debt. Since 1999, student debt has increased more than 500 percent, yet the average starting salary for graduates has dropped  10 percent, adjusted for inflation. Student debts can’t be cancelled in bankruptcy. A default brings penalties and ruins a credit rating.

Third and finally, the American public has become so cynical about government that many no longer think reform is possible.

When asked if they believe government will do the right thing most of the time, fewer than  20 percent of Americans agree. Fifty years ago, when that question was first asked on standard surveys, more than  75 percent agreed.

It’s hard to get people worked up to change society or even to change a few laws when they don’t believe government can possibly work.

Reich believes these factors are merely delaying demands for action but also worsening the prospects that, eventually, the result will be chaos and revolution.

Change is coming anyway. We cannot abide an ever-greater share of the nation’s income and wealth going to the top while median household incomes continue too drop, one out of five of our children living in dire poverty, and big money taking over our democracy.

At some point, working people, students, and the broad public will have had enough. They will reclaim our economy and our democracy. This has been the central lesson of American history.

Reform is less risky than revolution, but the longer we wait the more likely it will be the latter.



e.a.f. said...

change only comes when people force it. they don't force it until they have nothing left to loose. Right now Americans are slipping into second world conditions. Once that has been completed, it maybe too late. On the other hand, we may see the rise of unions once again.

americans only have themselves to blame. they continued to vote for people who did not have their interests in mind, let alone their heart. Much can be accomplished at a state level, however, here there has only been changes to make life more difficult for the poor. '''there is actually little hope for the U.S.A.

Richard said...

U.S. is coming soon. We'll likely follow shortly after due to the economic disruptions and inspiration.

Still eyeing China as the trigger.

The Mound of Sound said...

@ e.a.f. - revolution is rarely the result of a "peoples'" movement. Read Crane Brinton's "The Anatomy of Revolution." Revolt is almost invariably a middle class institution. It's the stuff of artisans, intellectuals, professionals and not peasants, at least not initially.

@ Richard. You could be right.

LeDaro said...

Today's Repugs consider Ronald Reagan a liberal. That should answer Robert Reich's question.

Any uprising in near future is highly unlikely.

The Mound of Sound said...

Revolts, LD, are fueled by discontent with adverse social conditions. Uprisings are notoriously difficult to predict. They seem to erupt somewhat spontaneously. Look at how quickly East Germany toppled. No one, not even the East German border guards, foresaw that. Two friends of mine, employed by television networks, one American, the other Canadian, had to race to Berlin to cover the story.