Review By Rev. Karyn Packard
The author of Common Good, 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. 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. His latest documentary, “Saving Capitalism,” is streaming on Netflix.
Brian Stauffer, reviewer for the NY Times says, “A politics empty of moral argument creates a vacuum of meaning that is often filled by the vengeful certitudes of strident nationalism. This danger now hovers over American politics”. Robert Reich’s new book frames this predicament as the decline of the “common good” in American life and suggests ways to restore it. Reich defines the “common good”, as consisting in “our shared values about what we owe one another as citizens who are bound together in the same society.” He chronicles examples of how this “whatever-it-takes-to-win politics has happened since the Nixon administration. He also demonstrates the effect of the corporate world’s singular focus on shareholder value rather than the communities they serve as contributing to this decline.
As a young teenager at the time of the Kennedys entering politics, I took two of Ayn Rand’s books, Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged off my parent’s book shelf and dove into them. I must admit they were shocking to me. The philosophy was as far from the “common good” as could be imagined. It seemed they gave license to be selfish, painting self-focus as a virtue and altruism as an evil. Reich brings to the reader’s attention the commitment to these beliefs held by Rex Tillerson, Mike Pompeo, Andrew Puzder and not surprisingly, Paul Ryan. Ryan made it required reading for his staff. Even Uber’s founder and former CEO Travis Kalanick described himself as a Rand follower. Ayn Rand became the intellectual godmother of modern-day American conservatism.
Reich suggests that these ideals and principles are not political, at least not in the partisan sense. That is hard to imagine. However commitment to the “common good” would require a turn-around in the breakdown of moral restraint in pursuit of power and money. Reich further suggests that there be more emphasis on civic education, including two years of mandatory public service and efforts to resurrect truth from political deceit and fake news.
Those of you who have read Joseph Campbell will be reminded of his belief that the world needs heroes who are worthy of our admiration and emulation. Reich agrees, and would like us to reexamine who really is a hero to each of us today rather than honoring people for “common good”. Obviously, Trump’s evasion of taxes, barely legal schemes and financial trickery for personal gain are the antithesis of this premise. Check out the following statistics from Robert Reich’s website.
• In 1963¸ 7% of Americans trusted government…now only 16% do
• In 1970s, 32% trusted big business…now only 18% do
• Trust in banks dropped from 60% to 27%
• Trust in newspapers dropped from 51% to 20%
Trust in nonprofits, universities, charities, and religious institutions have also plummeted. The question raised by Reich, “can the system be made to work for the good of all?” Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once said, “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.” With a commitment to hope, we sent this book to our high school age grandson.