Robert Reich says he missed the tipping point.
For three decades after World War II, the United States built the largest middle class ever seen, the former labor secretary writes in his new book.
The earnings of the typical American worker doubled, as did the size of the country’s economy. Meanwhile, the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans took home 9 to 10 percent of total income.
Over the last three decades, according to Reich, the economy has doubled again while wages of typical workers have not.
The wealthiest 1 percent, however, now gets more than 20 percent.
The transition began in the 1970s and Reich, who held economic policy positions in the Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter administrations, enjoyed a good vantage point from which to discern such a change.
But he didn’t see it, he says. “It was not until I became labor secretary in the early 1990s that I began to connect the dots.”
Many workers missed it too, he says, even as their economic prospects began to diminish.
“We watched more women going into the workforce in the 1980s to help their families. In the 1990s everybody began working longer hours. And then in the late 1990s we started borrowing against our homes.
“All those were coping mechanisms we used to avoid facing reality.”
The recession, he says, made that reality obvious.
Well before then, Reich had placed great importance on an activist government raising taxes on the wealthy and reinvesting some of those proceeds in education.
He still believes that. But in his new book, “Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few,” Reich details what he thinks average Americans should watch for now.
“I now believe that you can’t separate government from the economy because government sets the rules of the economy,” Reich says.
“The real problem is that we have so much big money running our government and economy, that average people don’t even see the extent to which there has been a re-distribution of wealth upward.”
One problem, Reich writes, is how the middle class has lost the “countervailing” power that it enjoyed from the 1930s through the 1970s with the diminishment of labor unions, small businesses and small investors.
Average Americans should insist on “creating a market that is no longer biased to the wealthy,” he says.
Reich took heart in hearing Pope Francis, during his address to Congress, advocate for an economy “which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable.”
That, Reich says, speaks to his belief that a tacit social contract in which Americans believe that the economic system is fair, both for them and their children, must be maintained.
“There has got to be a moral center to capitalism or else we have nothing but everyone acting in his or her best interests.”
Reich speaks at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Kansas City Library’s Plaza branch, 4801 Main St. The event is full and RSVPs are closed, but it can be viewed live online at youtube.com/kclibrary.
A high-profile atheist
Richard Dawkins is much more than a tireless tweeter.
The evolutionary biologist was the first holder of an Oxford University chair of public understanding of science, and admirers of his 2006 book “The God Delusion,” which argues against the existence of a supreme being, believed it helped make atheism more mainstream.
Dawkins also has more than 1 million Twitter followers and some of his more recent tweets have been driving the news.
Last month he criticized Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas teen arrested for bringing his homemade clock to school, for describing it as his “invention.” Dawkins did say he believes it’s wrong that Mohamed had been arrested.
This past week Dawkins tweeted that, despite his views on religion, he does celebrate Christmas “in the same way as I enjoy novels while knowing full well the characters never existed. Problem?”
Remarks that may seem cheeky to some readers may not be to many others, he said recently.
“Atheists and secularists are more numerous than people realize. Atheists need to join the table and not be denigrated and be considered fully eligible for high office,” he said.
Dawkins recently released “Brief Candle in the Dark: My Life in Science” as a sequel to “An Appetite for Wonder,” a 2013 memoir.
“This book has a substantial section reviewing my scientific work and is a little bit unusual in that it is not chronologically arranged,” Dawkins said. “I wanted to … consider different themes.”
Dawkins, who just completed a book tour in northern England and Scotland, said he was cheered by his reception.
“Huge audiences, sell-out crowds, very friendly and enthusiastic feedback,” he said. “I suppose I do have an image that is not exactly affectionate, but I am very affectionate and humorous, I think.”
Dawkins speaks at 7 p.m. Thursday at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St. The Star is co-sponsoring the event. For more info, go to rainydaybooks.com.