Ye Olde Natural Philosophy Discussion Group

Reviews and comments on
Robert B. Reich: Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few [2015]

This book is about the worsening economic problems in the U.S., the continuing worsening of economic inequality, and the deterioration of the health, welfare and economic security of most of the American people. But as the title suggests, the author believes that these problems can be rectified within the capitalist system. Our group mostly gave this book pretty high ratings and we felt that Reich did a pretty good job of outlining the many serious and growing problems. But at the same time many of us felt that he was unable to suggest any plausible means of changing this deplorable situation. On a scale of 0 to 10 our group average rating was 7.2.

Vicki gave the book our highest rating, a 10, but also had some criticisms of it. In a lot of ways it is preaching to the choir, she said, and found it too optimistic. She added that “the book is worth reading for those who think American politics is right vs. left when it is really corporations vs. the rest of us.” She noted Reich’s argument that American politics has historically swung from excesses such as the Gilded Age of the late 1800s or the capitalist boom of the 1920s to reactions by the people against such things, such as during the New Deal. However, Vicki doesn’t see this as automatically happening and says that the situation is more doubtful and pessimistic now.

Kevin rated the book an 8. He said that Reich diagnosed the social and economic problems very well, but was by no means comprehensive in suggesting solutions. “The book made me pessimistic,” he said. He felt that the effects of technology and automation were not stressed enough, and that while massive numbers of jobs (such as truck drivers and taxi drivers) were on the verge of disappearing, fewer and fewer new jobs are being generated. The book pretty much missed all this entirely, he said. The book is good on the issue of growing inequality. But Reich doesn’t provide a viable solution to this problem. We can’t just “vote them out”, as Reich suggests. Kevin has no faith in Reich’s solutions, and adds that the book is very weak when it comes to the solution aspects of these problems.

Barbara found the book very informative and rated it a 6. She is concerned about the corporations and their automation overpowering ordinary persons and the disappearance of jobs. She said that education is necessary but getting more and more expensive. Factors such as these are leading to a loss of middle class status for many people. She added that big companies should be taxed more; the present tax laws clearly favor the rich.

Ron hadn’t finished the book yet and will give us his review and rating later. Rich agreed with a lot of what Kevin said. The health care system is broken and the big drug companies are the only ones benefiting from it. “I hate politics; it always turns me off!” Rich said. “But the information in the book made me angry.”

Rosie agreed very much with Kevin and Rich. She was very disappointed with the suggested solutions Reich gave. “It was the same old ideas,” she said. But she thinks Reich is a good guy and a good writer. She gave the book a 7.

Shel also rated it a 7. He didn’t feel that Reich was really laying out many suggestions for dealing with the problems he discussed. “The guaranteed minimum income idea will never fly,” he added. The author should have suggested a value-added tax instead. The author was only trying to say, “Here are some ideas.” But he was very good on saying what is wrong.

Kirby said that he agreed totally with Kevin, that the author did a great job in laying out the problems but a very poor job of putting forward solutions. Kirby thought that Reich was going out of his way to blame Obama for problems with the health care system and other issues. He thought that Reich didn’t admit that Obama’s bailout of banks and corporations in the 2008 financial crisis was the “least bad outcome”. Kirby said the first part of the book on the various economic problems in society didn’t change his existing perspective, but he rejected completely the “pie in the sky” solutions in the later part of the book. So he rated the book a 5.

Scott thinks that the book actually works towards the opposite of what the author says he is trying to do, namely “save the capitalist system”. Reich provides one piece of information after another that shows that the present capitalist system is benefiting the rich and is not at all working in the interests of the people. Yes, he says that things don’t have to be this way, but as our group concludes, he provides no real solutions to how to change things within this system. But because the book is such a good exposure of the failings of the present capitalist system, Scott rates it as an 8.

Reich lays out very well, and presents a huge amount of evidence, about how the present capitalist market economy in the United States is organized to benefit the rich and make them richer. Instead of arguing, as he also does, that the system doesn’t have to be this way, the more obvious thing to focus on is just why things are this way right now and why they are constantly becoming ever more strongly this way! One of the strengths of the book is that he talks a lot about how the economic problems and miseries of the poor—and even the “middle class”—are the product of their lack of political power. But Scott says this also leads to the fundamental flaw in the book—the failure to understand that there is a capitalist ruling class in this country which rules in its own interests, and the concomitant failure to understand that this capitalist ruling class can never be overthrown through their electoral system which they totally and absolutely control.

One of the main themes of the book is the need to “rebuild” within the present political system a countervailing power to the rich and their corporations. This is a pipe dream, as Scott discusses in his Marxist Dictionary. See: “COUNTERVAILING POWER”

While Scott views this book as providing lots of ammunition against the present capitalist system, Reich’s presentation of his imagined “solutions” to all the existing and continually worsening problems seems to Scott to once again confirm his long-standing belief that “liberals are just silly utopians”. They have no real solutions to the worsening evils of capitalism, at least none that can actually be implemented.

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