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Robert Reich
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Saturday 16 February 2013
The questions we face—whether to raise the minimum wage, restrict the availability of guns, expand healthcare coverage, and countless other decisions—inevitably require us to define what we mean by a decent society.

The Minimum Wage, Guns, Healthcare and the Meaning of a Decent Society

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Raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9 should be a no-brainer. Republicans say it will cause employers to shed jobs, but that’s baloney. Employers won’t outsource the jobs abroad or substitute machines for them because jobs at this low level of pay are all in the local personal service sector (retail, restaurant, hotel, and so on), where employers pass on any small wage hikes to customers as pennies more on their bills. States that have a minimum wage closer to $9 than the current federal minimum don’t have higher rates of unemployment than do states still at the federal minimum.

A mere $9 an hour translates into about $18,000 a year — still under the poverty line. When you add in the Earned Income Tax Credit and food stamps it’s possible to barely rise above poverty at this wage, but even the poverty line of about $23,000 understates the true cost of living in most areas of the country.

Besides, the proposed increase would put more money into the hands of families that desperately need it, allowing them to buy a bit more and thereby keep others working.

A decent society should do no less.

 Some conservatives say “decency” has nothing to do with it. Who has the right to decide what’s decent? We should let the “market” decide what people are paid.

 This is one of the oldest conservative canards in existence, based on the false claim that there’s something called a “market” that exists separate from society. But there’s no “market” in a state of nature, just survival of the fittest.

A society necessarily determines how the “market” is to be organized. Standards of morality and decency play a large role in those decisions.

We set minimum standards for worker safety and consumer protection. We decide young children shouldn’t be in the labor force.

We do our best to prevent certain things from being bought and sold — such as slaves, dangerous narcotics, babies, votes, sex with children, machine guns, nuclear material.

We decide citizens shouldn’t have to buy certain things that should instead be available to everyone free of charge (paid in effect by all of us through our taxes) – such as clean drinking water, K-12 schools, safe bridges, protection from violence, public parks.

Opinions may differ about what decency requires, and we hash it out in a democracy. We might decide certain minimum standards are too costly or inefficient, or can’t be enforced, or impose unwarranted constraints on our freedoms.

Different societies come up with different answers. Handguns are banned in most other advanced nations, for example. Workers have more protections than they do in the United States. Minimum wages are higher. Taxes on the wealthy are higher. Healthcare is more universally available.

Every society must necessarily decide for itself what decency requires. That’s the very meaning of a “society.”

Don’t fall for the mindless assertion that “markets” know best. Markets are human creations, requiring human beings to decide how they are structured and maintained.

The questions we face – whether to raise the minimum wage, restrict the availability of guns, expand healthcare coverage, and countless other decisions – inevitably require us to define what we mean by a decent society.

This article was originally posted on Robert Reich's blog.

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ABOUT Robert Reich


ROBERT B. REICH, one of the nation’s leading experts on work and the economy, is Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Time Magazine has named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the last century. He has written thirteen books, including his latest best-seller, “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future;” “The Work of Nations,” which has been translated into 22 languages; and his newest, an e-book, “Beyond Outrage.” His syndicated columns, television appearances, and public radio commentaries reach millions of people each week. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine, and Chairman of the citizen’s group Common Cause. His widely-read blog can be found at Robert Reich's new film, "Inequality for All" is available on DVD
and blu-ray, and on Netflix in February.

Thank you Robert Reich!

Thank you Robert Reich!

The minimum wage proposal is

The minimum wage proposal is a band-aid approach and does not effectively deal with the exponential loss of income due to tectonic shifts in the technologies of production that destroy and devalue jobs. Employers, as an increase business cost, will pass on the differential to their customers. To address poverty and the ever constant income inequality requires that we significantly improve the income prospects of EVERY American, especially those still under the poverty line and embrace FUTURE technologies that will result in more efficient production of the products and services needed and wanted by society.

This requires a solution that broadens private, individual ownership in FUTURE productive capital investment to enable EVERY American to acquire an income-producing capital stock portfolio that fully pays out dividend income. As a result, economic growth will soar to the double digits and REAL jobs will result that are necessary to the building of a FUTURE economy that supports affluence for EVERY American, and finally once and for all, eliminates poverty in America.

President Obama came out strong in his address - unveiling his second term vision and pushing hard for real action on everything from growing our economy to real immigration reform. The fight continues to make these goals a reality, but it won't be easy.

"It's our unfinished task to make sure this government works on behalf of the many, and not just the few." President Obama State of the Union.

President Obama reinforced JOB CREATION funded by taxpayers and the private sector, but NEVER addressed OWNERSHIP CREATION and the necessity of building an OWNERSHIP CULTURE.

A National Right To Capital Ownership Bill that restores the American dream should be advocated by the progressive movement, which addresses the reality of Americans facing job opportunity deterioration and devaluation due to tectonic shifts in the technologies of production.

There is a solution, which will result in double-digit economic growth and simultaneously broaden private, individual ownership so that EVERY American's income significantly grows, providing the means to support themselves and their families with an affluent lifestyle. The Just Third Way Master Plan for America's future is published at

Support the Capital Homestead Act at and

Mr. Reich writes, "A society

Mr. Reich writes, "A society necessarily determines how the 'market' is to be organized."
It's about time someone in the mainstream admitted the obvious: systems and processes, including our monetarist system, are man-made. The sole constant is the law of supply and demand. Example: under our monetary system, those with access to the printing presses can print as much currency as they want without anything to back up its "value." Similarly, our current banking reserve system further pumps currency into the economy under our bank-credit protocols. All are man-made; all end up destroying the value of the working man's labor, salary, savings and pension because an increase of such currency in the "market" erodes and eventually neuters its *buying* power.
Under this man-made process, ("the market?") the "loser" is the individual with nothing to trade but his skill and time. The "winner" is the one who determines how much currency to exchange for such time and skill.
Mountainman23 makes his point.

We're not a decent society.

We're not a decent society. We like to scapegoat the poor. It makes the middle class feel much better, and today, it's all about, only about, the middle class. Clinton made it cool even for liberals to censor out any legitimate discussion about American poverty, so there is no talk about how and why our policies against the poor are wiping out the middle class (who still have a measure of political power). We can't end the phasing out of the middle class as long as we maintain our current social policies. If we had sense, we would examine and restore that range of policies that turned the US into an economic power from WWll until Reagan. We don't. We don't get that you can't get a job when you have no home address, phone, clean clothes, bus fare. It's that basic. We're still redistributing a massive amount of taxpayer money upward, waiting for trickle-down economics, and fantasizing that we can end poverty by getting brutal enough to those who "choose the poverty lifestyle."

Every one of us likes profit

Every one of us likes profit we all want to profit at least to a degree of self sufficienty. If China is a model of the market you can have it with their red rivers that catch on fire smog that is so thick you have to buy cans of fresh air
and safety nets that catch suicidal workers from jumping out of their building to get away from the job at hand. Worker are workers from the restuarant server to the highly educated surgeon they still work for a living and a stagnant wage is
not going to stop and make a business lay off worker if they give them a new wage they just raise the prices. If reagan nomics worked so well why did gm
go bankrupt and ge almost went the same way and why did the to big to suck banks need a bailout. Capitalism worked for many years but we could do better just as we ousted the fudal system because we can do better. It is simple logic thinking as there are more of the average person they will oust the current system or make it better because going the oppisite direction is just plain ignorant. Nobody want another china type system we want a system that rewards individual effort, inventiveness, education used for the betterment of us all and not just giving out degrees that are usless for years until the competion eases when baby boomers retire and yes the internet can change the way politicians can represent us and hopefully they wont be boiught off any more. The america we once knew is dwindling and it is up to us to change for the better or live like chinese smog monkeys jumping out the third story building into a burning river and not passing any birds on the way dowm because they ate em already. I like profit and want the goverment to get out of the way and let all americans profit like real estate raffles on foreclosed houses ending mortgages and freeing your money to be spent on ourselves instead of giving it to a bank that doesnt wnat to loan anyway.

Capitalism IS NOT what

Capitalism IS NOT what created great wealth for the vast majority of Americans. It created a vast amount of wealth for the top. What created the middle class and what little wealth we have for the majority of Americans were the labor movement and the great society legislation programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security that lifted millions of poor and seniors out of poverty. Capitalism left by itself naturally relies on greed and the ownership of other people by the wealthy. It is modern day slavery. Trickle -down does not, and never will work. That is why you have all these crashes. That is why the government, labor and people rising up and organizing because they have had enough mistreatment have to counter the nasty effects of capitalism. It is not a wealth creator for the many. It is a wealth creator for the few and well connected. An alternative form of organizing work, such as in worker-owned cooperatives, member or consumer owned cooperatives (credit unions et al), and other creative forms of ownership are much better at creating true fairness and equality.

This generation has been

This generation has been brainwashed into discounting the powerful role that welfare played, and that's tragic. The existence of welfare did one thing that was intolerable to corporate powers -- it made it necessary for employers to pay fair wages if they wanted workers. Today, millions of us are a single job loss from losing absolutely everything, in a country that cut the rungs off of the ladder back out of poverty. Before we began relocating our jobs to foreign countries, the middle class felt immune to poverty. We've turned the middle class into a gated community with only an exit gate.

Amen! In the words of John

Amen! In the words of John Maynard Keyens, "Capitalism is the astounding belief that the most wickedest of men will do the most wickedest of things for the greatest good of everyone." Proud to be a capitalistic SOCIALIST!

Really - you people are

Really - you people are amazingly confused. Capitalism built a better life style for more people rhan any other country in history. Trickle down does work and has worked better then any do- called kindly socialist system anywhere in the world. Once again - eventually all your socialist systems implode - soviet Union, north korea, Greece- and China was wallowing in poverty- starvation and massive suffering- until they decided to learn the lesson of Hong Kong and let their entrepreneurs free to build businesses that they could own.

Where on this planet has all this kindly socialism ever worked - taxing the ambitious into the ground and worse giving the capital to government incompetents who vacation more than they work- produces nothing but a stagnant evonomy.

All the tax money you like to collect from people that earned it and give away to people people that didn't must be created by productive businesses that operate on a profit basis- every single dollar.

The wealth of this nation is not a static pie that is divided by Americans- if you one person has more dollars that was earned by producing products that people freely decided to grade their money for then his wealth improved people's lives and did not reduce the standard of living of other people that produced little of value.
Just breathing does not entitle you to live this easy life of leisure and luxury.

Businesses that are profitable are alive- and can provide produxts and jobs imdefiitely.…

You need to examine the

You need to examine the difference between the free enterprise system, and Reagan's free-from-rules enterprise system, to understand why capitalism as we now have it has been destroying the US. Look at the results! We've already fallen behind the modern nations -- even behind Third World nations in a number of respects -- as a consequence of post-Reagan agendas. Today, the US economic system is easy to understand -- it's exclusively about upward wealth redistribution. Of course the rich are entirely willing to destroy the country in the process. When the US finally does collapse, they have the means to simply move elsewhere.

Decent Society? For

Decent Society? For CONSERVATIVES? You are kidding, Dr. Reich, right? Those dense and dumbed down with more money than sense would kill their own mom for a few more dollars. Had they any scruples, this society with all its resources and the $trillions raked in for two hundred years, would be swimming in golden pools and streets paved with gold with a chicken in every pot. As it stands, the US has become one of the most unequal society among industrial nations. Why? Because those with money have no interest in a decent, stable, humane society. Mention taking care of their own sh*t in the form of externality, and you have an army of mouths polluting the air waves branding anyone with interest in the well being of their fellow humans as a commie, a moron, a nut, whatever..... The only way we can have a decent society is to have a system that represents the interest of all instead of the 1% milking the 99%....

"An imbalance between rich

"An imbalance between rich and poor is the oldest and most fatal ailment of all republics."-Plutarch,a Greek Historian.

"Experience demands that man is the only animal which devours its own kind,for I can apply no milder term to the general prey of the rich on the poor"-Thomas Jefferson

People who dismiss the unemployed and dependent as "parasite" fail to understand economics and parasitism.A successful parasite is one that is not recognized by its host,one that can make its host work for it without appearing as a burden.Such is the ruling class in a capitalist society.-Jason Read

"Once you realize that trickle down economics doesn't work,you will see the excessive tax cuts for the rich as what they are--a simple upward redistribution of income,rather than a way to make all of us richer,as we were told"--Ha-Joon Chang(Faculity of Economics,University of Cambridge)

Since Reaganomics was introduced the the top 2%'s income has increased 275%,the middle-class income has increased 17% while the working poors income has increased a whopping 11%.Reaganomics was a Declaration of War.Class War.They have been redistributing the Wealth from the middle-class to the Bloated Filthy Rich.We sure and the hell didn't start the war but by God we have shown up for the battle.

"The liberty of Democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself.That,in its essence,is fascism-Ownership of government by an individual,or by a group."-Franklin D.Roosevelt

"We are not attacking the corporations,but endeavoring to do away with any evil in them.We are not hostile to them;we are merely determined that they shall be so handled as to SUBSERVE the public good.We draw the line against misconduct,not against wealth.-Theodore Roosevelt(State of the Union,1902)

Corporate Fascism is the problem and the Conservative ideology supports it.

You goofy socialists are a

You goofy socialists are a real hoot. First - if you raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour businesses will not hire people - many many entry level workers will lose their jobs- which is already happening thanks to Obamacare as service businesses eliminate full time jobs and hire part time only. Ask some restaurant workers what is happening. Then - entry level jobs- busing tables, simple jobs on an assembly line - jobs that take no skill and have a learning time of perhaps a day if not hours- are entry level jobs. These jobs are not for people that have a family of four to support- how about people have some intelligent decision making and try not to make a lot of kids until they can "afford" to support these children responsibly? Thst is what I did and millions of rational Americans do- right? Even you intellectually challenged educated socialists have a low birthrate and tend to put off children until you get a nice guaranteed overpaid government job or in the authors case - tenure. Work hard- show up on time, take night classes- learn some skills, accounting, plumbing, woodworking, cooking - whatever- get promoted to a job of greater skill or responsibility. Start your own business bravely-- like many other Americans. Learn English for God sake so you can have greater value to businesses and they can train you for more important jobs. Make yourself worth more money. It is just as irresponsible for a guy on minimum wage to start making babies as it would be for him to sign a loan for a luxury automobile or a mortgage like too many were allowed to do in 2005 to 2007....

Why should a guy putting a tire on a car that took him an hour or two to learn how to do-- get paid some high wage that would support a family of four - a house- two cars- big screen tv's and vacations on cruise ships...

What motivates him to make himself more valuable to himself this society and economy and his family? And the products his company will have to cost more making them more difficult for other people to buy- and reducing the sales of these products thereby reducing the number of jobs that company creates.

The Chinese are laughing their heads off - they send lots of money to support Reich's department and lots of students to learn how stupid we are in this country.

Higher minimum wage will push more manufacturing overseas to China- and it will force businesses to make the capital investment in automated systems- have any of you shopped at Home Depot lately? See all those automated checkout machines? Noticed that low cost restaurants are moving rapidly to waitressless designs?

This isn't about decency - it's fact and reality. You can't increase the minimum wage without dire consequences for entry level job workers. I worked minimum wage jobs when in high school and college but I have moved on to more skilled jobs- this is how it is suppose to work.

The fact is Mr. Reich- so-called economist- you might sit in on an economics 101 someday again- it is the market and it eventually always comes bsck into play to even the system. Did you not see what happened to the Soviet Unionor notice the massive disparity between South Korea and North Korea or read that Venezuela just devalued their currency by 30%- how did that work out for entry level workers in Venezuela? He raised the minimum wage but now the market has made the value of the money he received worth 30% less and it will fall further still.

There should be no minimum wage - businesses should compete for workers and pay the minimum to hire the employees they need- if you would stop advocating at the same time a massive influx of workers who accept cash and create an over abundance of unskilled entry level workers that would help increase the value of entey level workers as well and help make products they buy themselves cheaper so their income goes further.

Feel good foolishness -- there is a way to make more money- get promoted- become more valuable-
And reich claims to be an economist-- demogogue who is jealous of people that are smart enough to build businesses and "earn" millions making products or services that people freely decide to exchange their money for because these are their best option in the marketplace.

I bet Reich drives the car that was the best value - and shops at Costco and buys the cheapest products he can for his family-- i doubt he is thrilled about paying a premium for products made by companies that pay their workers luxurious salaries and benefits.

You are all like children working hard to make sure that the lifestyle of the Chinese expands while here in America it contracts.
Selfish and cruel of you -- to doom the economy to decline and loss of opportunity and the collapse of the middle American lifestyle.

This is not feudal England where you were forced to stay at the job you were botn into -- try reading about the life of the men who's universities created your institutions--

Sorry, I feel no obligation

Sorry, I feel no obligation to read a post that begins, "You goofy socialists." It is my experience that people resort to ad hominems when they can't form a rational argument.

Socialism, by the way, pays for the roads you drive on, the police who keep you safe, and this Internet you are using. (It also paid for Milton Friedman's education.)

"The Market" is allegedly

"The Market" is allegedly guided by an "invisible hand" that nudges, ever so gently, everything into harmonic equilibrium. Left to its own devices, so Adam Smith and his disciples would have you believe, market forces will create an economic system that is fair and good.

An "invisible hand"?! Next we'll be told the Easter Bunny is real. If anything, it's a fist.

What was that group called

What was that group called again.....Food not Guns or something like that. Sounds like a plan to me!

If the people have the right

If the people have the right to decide what's decent, why do indecent politicians decide for them? Electronic democracy makes (un)representative government obsolete.

Once again, thank you for

Once again, thank you for being a voice of reason in an unreasonable world. What you write rings of fundamental truth. Unfortunately, the Decent Society ship has sailed. What is perhaps even more unfortunate is that it's on the same course as the Titanic. My view is that we -- as a people, as a society -- have ignored the underpinnings of both the "Free Market" and what it means to be bound together by the set of principles, beliefs, shared customs, and laws that make up a society. It is indeed unfortunate that the pervasive myth of markets has supplanted the simple standards of decency and morality that allowed us to move out of the caves and into our homes, communities, and become a functioning society.

Minimum wage should be raised

Minimum wage should be raised to $12 an hour.

($12/hr) x (40hr/wk) x (50wk/yr) = $24,000 per year, just above the poverty level for a family of four.

To propose less, as Obama has done, is an insult to the workers whose labor makes possible the ridiculously opulent lifestyles of the Elites, Obama included.

Workers should be paid a decent wage for supporting the parasitic class.

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