Web Letters | The Nation

ATTN Robert Reich: What about the unemployed?

From Item 1 of Robert Reich’s ten-step plan: “No American who works full time should be in poverty.” What of those—and even under the economists’ paradise of “full employment” this would be at least 5.5 percent of the labor force—who are unable to find full-time employment?

It’s notable what’s missing from Reich’s ten-part plan to address inequality. For workers, there’s higher wages, unions, progressive taxation. For the unemployed, there’s nothing at all: no mention of the government as an employer of last resort, no guarantee of an income sufficient for a dignified life. There’s talk earlier in the article of “policies designed to upgrade the skills of Americans,” and though he doesn’t do so here, I suspect Reich would be happy to endorse a plan to offer training to the unemployed in the hope that they will be able to struggle onto the bottom rung of the ladder and, in the process, knock someone else into the pool of the structurally unemployed. But addressing the needs of that inevitable pool? Nada. One might even suspect they deserve their fate, since it’s only Americans who work full time that deserve better.

And that’s not a surprise. We learn where we stand in the opening paragraph. Inequality is a necessity; without the fear of an undignified poverty, what incentive would there be for people to work hard? It’s only when inequality “becomes so great as to pose a serious threat to our economy” that it becomes problematic.

Some of us would prefer to live in a world where the economy exists to serve the population and not the other way around.

Or, put another way: what does Reich have to offer the woman at the close of Elizabeth’s Warren’s piece in the same issue, who has earned two master’s degrees and has taught herself computer programming but has to walk two miles to hear Warren speak because she hasn’t been able to find work for eighteen months and can’t afford to keep a car running? More education, apparently.

Daniel McNeal

Cincinnati, OH

May 28 2014 - 2:20pm

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