Two years ago, Clinton-era Labor Secretary Robert Reich came to to Kansas City in part to promote his new book Saving Capitalism and in part to stage a dinner in which Reich interacted with people who did not share his generally leftist opinions.
A video crew recorded the dinner for Reich’s documentary, also called Saving Capitalism, which has just premiered on Netflix.
There were nine of us present at dinner, five of whom made it into the documentary. My appearance went no deeper than asking Reich what we should call him.
“Your excellence,” said Reich kiddingly, adding, “no, call me Bob.” Somewhere south of five feet tall, a cross he bears gamely, Reich compensated with an amiable, professorial hauteur. He did not inflame. He instructed or at least he tried to. At this dinner, however, he was in over his head and not just literally.
KC Public Library Director Crosby Kemper chose the participants, and he chose well. There were several people in attendance I would not have wanted to debate. That included Kemper, whose on-camera time was limited to introducing himself as a “libertarian.”
Woody Cozad introduced himself as a lawyer turned lobbyist, a profession he likened to “a doctor who specializes in the diseases of the very rich.”
“Don’t be defensive,” said Reich. Cozad assured him he was not being defensive at all. Reich, who is a champion of a benign government power, failed to acknowledge what Cozad had to point out, namely that the people who run the government run it in their own self interest. This, Cozad explained, is exactly what the Constitution was designed to limit.
“Let’s talk about power,” said attorney Dwight Sutherland whose clients have included Garmin. “They are held up to scorn, hatred and ridicule,” said Sutherland of Garmin’s founders, Gary Burrell and Min Kao. From Reich’s perspective, people like Burrell and Kao have added to income inequality. From Sutherland’s perspective, they have created thousands of well paying jobs. “Why are they the scapegoats?” he asked.
Annie Presley, a self-identified moderate Republican, made a similar point. “You vilified everything I’ve worked for all my life,” said Presley, who has started four businesses and created roughly 200 jobs, “I’ve worked my ass off, and you made me feel badly about what I’ve done for America.”
To his credit, Reich included all of these comments in his documentary. I knew, however, that he could not include mine.
To tie my question back into the Wall Street meltdown of 2008, Reich’s September 11, I talked about the relationship between family breakdown and the subprime crisis.
I explained that when Bill Clinton was inaugurated in 1993, the homeownership rate was lower than it had been when Richard Nixon was inaugurated in 1969.
The decline in two-parent families was negating the increase in prosperity. How could it not? In 1993, the average income for households headed by divorced women was 40 percent that of married couples; for unmarried women it was only 20 percent.
As the numbers suggest, many of these women could not manage homes of their own. Home-ownership rates for female-headed households struggled to stay above 50 percent. For married couples, they hovered consistently in the 80-percentile range.
Clinton and his people, however, refused to acknowledge family breakdown as a problem, let alone as an explanation for the disparity. Their preferred explanation for just about everything unpleasant was the inevitable racism.
This bubble-induced thinking led them to press banks to sell homes to people without sound credit and to press Fannie and Freddie to underwrite the nonsense, all with predictable results.
In response, Reich said he preferred to approach the problem “holistically” and not focus on any one area. “But Bob,” I said, “you didn’t mention family breakdown at all.”
This is the shortcoming of Saving Capitalism, both book and movie, Reich’s willingness to avert his gaze from social and economic problems he and his allies have caused.