Traverse City Record-Eagle

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August 4, 2013

Ex-labor secretary talks about fixing economy

TRAVERSE CITY — Talk, organize, mobilize, energize.

They’re words former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich used over and over again in answers to the question of how to solve the country’s economic and other woes.

Reich, who served in three national administrations, including as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton, was the guest Saturday at a Traverse City Film Festival Panel discussion. The public policy expert is a best-selling author, prize-winning professor at the University of California, Berkeley, media commentator and playwright. He stars in the Film Fest documentary, “Inequality for All.”

The film, which explores the causes and consequences of the widening income gap in America, earned a standing ovation at Friday’s screening. It was set to be shown again Saturday.

Known for his humor, equanimity and ability to break down complex issues, Reich started by pointing out that explaining difficult issues like the economy is easier with humor.

“If you can get people to laugh, then they can hear,” he said, in the panel discussion moderated by filmmaker Michael Moore and punctuated by Reich’s jokes about his short stature. “We tend to like our politics in a very angry form.”

He said many Americans don’t understand how the division of wealth contributes to the country’s current economic ills. When 400 Americans have more wealth than the bottom 150 million, the vast middle class doesn’t have the purchasing power to keep the economy going, he said.

“The real reason the economy is not growing is because the median wage is now almost 5 percent below what it was at the start of recovery,” said Reich, a Rhodes Scholar and Yale Law School grad.

He argued that more jobs at lower wages is not the answer but instead raising wages so that the middle class can buy what they produce and stimulate the economy is.

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