Salt Lake Community College welcomed economy expert Robert Reich to the 2016 Tanner Forum on Social Ethics on Wednesday, Oct. 19.
Reich once served as Secretary of Labor during the Bill Clinton administration and currently teaches public policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He took center stage in the Grand Theatre to “integrate three different ways of thinking” between politics, economics and ethics.
Prior to his presentation, Reich participated in a forum and answered student questions on topics such as the national debt and the presidential race.
“[The] debt issue is a potential problem, but it’s the ratio of debt to the economy that’s the problem,” Reich said. “It’s not sustainable what is happening now, or what’s been happening the past 25 to 30 years.”
The difference between Wall Street and Main Street
When asked about presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, someone he has known since they were undergraduates in college almost five decades ago, Reich shared his concerns on her “ties to Wall Street” and said that the “worldview Wall Street has is different than just working people.”
Reich stated that running for president is an expensive endeavor, and that he is worried about anyone running for that position in this day and age, because raising a lot of money is so necessary.
“These parties are getting thinner and thinner in terms of what they are, and the glue that actually keeps a party together is coming apart in both parties,” he said.
Looking forward, Reich sees a much more socially liberal country due to the rising “majority of minorities” and as “women take more positions of responsibility.”
Change brings uncertainty
Reich then took center stage at the Grand Theatre for his main presentation, where he stressed that the economic system that helped make America strong in the beginning is now failing us and that “there’s a general sense in this country that something is wrong.”
Reich realizes that a country that presents itself as a meritocracy can leave a shrinking middle class feeling frustrated. He discussed how globalization and technological displacement have affected jobs, wages and fortunes in every advanced nation, including the United States.
“Globalization, properly understood, has lofted over America and we have not been ready for it,” he said.
Reich further explained how technology is replacing jobs humans once did and the problem is that the “pace of technological displacement has now become so fast, it’s faster than our capacity to easily retrain for another job that pays as much or as well.”
According to Reich, two-thirds of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and that’s an “issue of insecurity we need to realize.”
“We will get through this”
The presentation ended with questions submitted by audience members. Associate Dean of Communication and Performing Arts Nick Burns asked Reich if he saw a “pitfall to free higher education.”
Reich responded that he believed free college to be “a public good,” but also said that college debt could be more adequately managed by refinancing debt at a lower rate or moving from the current college borrowing system to a system that is more income-conscious.
He concluded by mentioning that the millennials he teaches fill him with optimism, that they are the “most idealistic, most oriented to service, and most determined to change America for the good.”
What gives Reich hope for the future is that he knows America has faced similar situations before and its citizens will come together and “roll up our sleeves and get on with what has to be done.”
“Even in the midst of this off-election, disheartening and depressing, there is a lot of reason to believe we will not only get through this, but we will be victorious ethically, politically and economically.”