In SAVING CAPITALISM (2017), a documentary on Netflix, former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich highlights the major points in his book with the same title while having conversations with ordinary Americans about how changes in the economy are affecting them. This spot-on analysis of how American democracy has become corrupted by corporate influence, and what this means for the economy and average Americans, is essential viewing for people of all political stripes.
Reich is a Democrat who was Secretary of Labor under Bill Clinton, but his analysis speaks to anger that crosses the cultural divide in America and speaks to almost everybody in a nonpartisan way. The documentary shows him talking to conservatives and libertarians who humorously agree with him but then fall back on stereotypes about liberals to insist there shouldn’t be agreement. Reich’s central thesis is that a free market doesn’t exist in America, there is simply government making rules that define the game. Deregulation is more about changing the rules to suit big business than it is eliminating regulation. He charts how the rich and big business accumulate wealth, which they use to accumulate power, which they use to change the rules to benefit them, and how this hurts democracy and workers. The result is a country that is a de facto oligarchy designed to serve the few instead of everybody. The horrifying Republican tax bill–which gives massive tax breaks to corporations and the rich, which will come at the expense of Social Security and Medicare–is a perfect example of this. Reich predicted anger and resentment about income inequality in the 90s, when he found himself increasingly marginalized in the Clinton Administration, and it explains why many of the same people supported both Sanders and Trump. Both candidates spoke to income inequality, though arguably only one actually meant it. It’s a stark raving fact that the middle class has been steadily shrinking for decades and all economic gains are going to the top 1%.
The people in SAVING CAPITALISM recognize the same problem but have different solutions. The leftist may come away from SAVING CAPITALISM saying, maybe capitalism shouldn’t be saved. In fact, Reich’s analysis is so frank and bleak it makes you wonder what can be done. While socialism and capitalism can work well together, pure socialism, even democratic socialism, may not be the answer and in any case couldn’t be achieved with anything short of violent revolution. The conservative or libertarian will come away saying, if crony capitalism (the government rigging the game on behalf of a small group of corporations) is inevitable, we should keep capitalism but take away government’s ability to make the rules. But that would eliminate what little economic security Americans have left, and stick them with the bill for all, instead of most, of capitalism’s externalities (costs that businesses impose on society, such as pollution, poor safety, etc.). Instead of ensuring fairness, capitalism would run amok. The bottom line is both sides want Americans to have more economic security, believe government is focused on catering to the rich and big business, and that if the system doesn’t change, America will decline. The key is to ensure government sets the rules of the same with the interests of Americans, and to do that they need to take power back from corporations and the rich, which would mean getting money out of politics. On that, at least, I think most Americans can agree.
Reich has the facts but no easy answers. But maybe that’s enough for one documentary–to at least get everybody to recognize we see the same problem (crony capitalism and government slanted to the rich, creating a two-tiered society) and want the same thing (democracy responsive to average people and more economic security), and can therefore debate solutions from a common understanding of what the problem is.
Regardless of what your politics are, or whether you even care about politics at all, you owe it to yourself to watch this documentary right now. It’s a crash course on what’s wrong with our political/economic system that will make you think and piss you off.