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Robert B. Reich makes a powerful case for the expansion of America’s moral imagination. Rooting his argument in common sense and everyday reality, he demonstrates that a common good constitutes the very essence of any society or nation. Societies, he says, undergo virtuous cycles that reinforce the common good as well as vicious cycles that undermine it, one of which America has been experiencing for the past five decades. This process can and must be reversed. But first we need to weigh the moral obligations of citizenship and carefully consider how we relate to honor, shame, patriotism, truth, and the meaning of leadership.

Powerful, urgent, and utterly vital, this is a heartfelt missive from one of our foremost political thinkers.

Review

“Against the grain of much liberal thinking . . . Reich’s proposals would make a good starting point for a new progressive political project.” —Michael J. Sandel,  The New York Times Book Review

“Very timely . . . Reich’s work is an important call for reform that should appeal to a wide audience disaffected with the status quo.” — Library Journal (starred review)

“Reich’s lucidly defining and empowering call for revitalized civic awareness—complete with an enticing list of recommended reading and discussion guide—is an ideal catalyst for book-group conversations.” — Booklist
 
“Clear-voiced and accessible.” — Publishers Weekly

“Brief but well-argued . . . a provocative essay.” — Kirkus

About the Author

ROBERT B. REICH is Chancellor''s Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations and has written fifteen books, including The Work of Nations, Saving Capitalism, Supercapitalism, and Locked in the Cabinet. His articles have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Wall Street Journal. He is co-creator of the award-winning documentary Inequality for All and of the Netflix documentary Saving Capitalism, and is co-founder of Inequality Media. He lives in Berkeley and blogs at robertreich.org.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction I was at the impressionable age of fourteen when I heard John F. Kennedy urge us not to ask what America can do for us but what we can do for America. Seven years later I took a job as a summer intern in the Senate office of his brother Robert F. Kennedy. It was not a glamorous job, to say the least. I felt lucky when I was asked to run his signature machine. But I told myself that in a very tiny way I was doing something for the good of the country. That was a half century ago. I wish I could say America is a better place now than it was then. Surely our lives are more convenient. Fifty years ago there were no cash machines or smartphones, and I wrote my first book on a typewriter. As individuals, we are as kind and generous as ever. We volunteer in our communities, donate, and help one another. We pitch in during natural disasters and emergencies. We come to the aid of individuals in need. We are a more inclusive society, in that African Americans, women, and gays have legal rights they didn’t have a half century ago. Yet our civic life—as citizens in our democ­racy, participants in our economy, managers or employees of companies, and members or leaders of organizations—seems to have sharply deteriorated. What we have lost, I think, is a sense of our connectedness to each other and to our ideals—the America that John F. Kennedy asked that we contribute to.

Starting in the late 1970s, Americans began talk­ing less about the common good and more about self-aggrandizement. The shift is the hallmark of our era: from the “Greatest Generation” to the “Me Generation,” from “we’re all in it together” to “you’re on your own.” In 1977, motivational speaker Robert Ringer wrote a book that reached the top of the New York Times best-seller list enti­tled Looking Out for # 1. It extolled the virtues of selfishness to a wide and enthusiastic audience. The 1987 film Wall Street epitomized the new ethos in the character Gordon Gekko and his signature line, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.”

The past five decades have also been marked by growing cynicism and distrust toward all of the basic institutions of American society—government, the media, corpora­tions, big banks, police, universities, charities, religious institutions, the professions. There is a wide and pervasive sense that the system as a whole is no longer working as it should. A growing number of Americans feel neglected and powerless. Some are poor, or black or Latino; others are white and have been on a downward economic esca­lator for years. Many in the middle also feel stressed and voiceless. Whether we call ourselves Democrats or Repub­licans, liberals or conservatives, we share many of the same anxieties and feel much of the same distrust. We have nonetheless been cleaved into warring ideological tribes, and tribes within those tribes. Some of us have even been seduced by demagogues and conspiracy theorists. We seem to be a long way from when John F. Kennedy asked that Americans contribute to the well-being of all. We no longer even discuss what we owe one another as members of the same society.

As I write this, I am now a septuagenarian and Donald Trump is president. In many ways Trump epitomizes what has gone wrong. But as I hope to make clear, Trump is not the cause. He is a consequence—the logical outcome of what has unfolded over many years. His election was itself propelled by widespread anxieties, and distrust toward our political and economic system. Say what you want about him, Trump has at least brought us back to first principles. Some presidents, like Ronald Reagan, got us talking about the size and role of government. Trump has got us talking about democracy versus tyranny. Some presidents, like Bill Clinton, invited a discussion of how we can make the most of ourselves. Trump, by dint of his pugnacious character and the divisiveness he has fueled, raises the question of what connects us, of what we hold in common.
Hence, this book.

Is there a common good that still binds us together as Americans? That it’s even necessary to ask shows how far we’ve strayed. Today, some think we’re connected by the whiteness of our skin, or our adherence to Christianity, or the fact that we were born in the United States. I believe we’re bound together by the ideals and principles we share, and the mutual obligations those principles entail.

My hope is that this book provokes a discussion of the good we have had in common, what has happened to it, and what we might do to restore it. Perhaps this book can even provide a means for people with opposing views to debate these questions civilly. My goal is not that we all agree on the common good. It is that we get into the habit and practice of thinking and talking about it, and hear­ing one another’s views about it. This alone would be an advance.

I should clarify from the start what this book is not. It is not about communism or socialism, although in this fractious era I wouldn’t be surprised if the word “common” in the title causes some people to assume it is. It is not a book about what progressives or Democrats or Repub­licans ought to do to win elections, what messages they should convey, or policies they should propose. There is already quite enough advice to go around. And it’s not a book about Donald Trump, although he does come up from time to time.

It is a book about what we owe one another as mem­bers of the same society—or at least what we did owe one another more than a half century ago when I heard John F. Kennedy’s challenge. It is about the good we once had in common—and, if we are to get back to being a far better functioning society, must have again.

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Top reviews from the United States

Gary Moreau, Author
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Democracy vs authoritarianism is not a binary choice
Reviewed in the United States on February 21, 2018
If Robert Reich has not written the best book of political economy in a long while, he has certainly written the most timely and necessary book of our time. And it’s written on one fundamental truth: The reality of American history is the pursuit of an ideal of... See more
If Robert Reich has not written the best book of political economy in a long while, he has certainly written the most timely and necessary book of our time. And it’s written on one fundamental truth: The reality of American history is the pursuit of an ideal of individuality defined by the common good, not the achievement of individual Americans jockeying for personal advantage at any cost to the common good.

Without the collective good, there is no society. Without regulatory restrictions insuring intellectual property and competitive fair play, there is no American economy. To suggest that our economy is “free” in any literal sense is to ignore the very principles of competition on which Adam Smith built his economic model. It is a model built on the ideal of truth and equitable competition, not the ideal of individualism without rules or constraints.

If we are a nation of law and order, it is because we, in our collective sense of right and wrong, have voluntarily committed to the ideal. It’s a commitment not to our individuality, but to our individual peace and prosperity through collective cooperation and self-restraint. Without the self-restraint that can only come from recognition of the common good the police would have virtually no chance to keep the peace. It is the ideal, as much as the police (who clearly deserve our respect and support), which keep the streets safe.

If modern science has taught us anything it is the degree to which our world is integrated. The quality of our environment is determined not by the local ecology of a prairie here and a rain forest there, but by the balance achieved within a complex and integrated global ecosystem. The most impactful economic theory flows not from presumed theoretical behaviors but from the recognition of how much our actual economic behavior is driven by human psychology. Human biology and medicine, by the same token, cannot be understood outside of the influence of evolution and the body’s integrated systems.

If there is a common theme to the malaise currently paralyzing our politics it is the historically inaccurate digital perspective that there is only democracy and authoritarianism. Any attempt to promote the common good on any front, including gender and racial equality, immigration, prison reform, income inequality, etc., is quickly and effectively dismissed by the people holding the microphone with a simple allusion to the slippery slope of tyranny, fascism, and, of course, communism.

As Reich points out, however, when Ayn Rand was establishing the ideological foundation of the conservatism now embraced by the ruling political class in Washington, the Allied powers did not defeat fascism, nor did the US defeat the USSR in the Cold War, by employing the opposite ideology. We defeated the repulsive authoritarianism of the mid-20th Century by doubling down on our commitment to the common good and the guiding ideal which redefined it in a uniquely American and effective way.

Technology has integrated our lives more than ever before. And whether you think that’s good or bad, we aren’t going to turn back the clock of technology. (Nor do I think we should want to.) Attempting to make the common good irrelevant or undesirable by abandoning our collective ideals of a commitment to truth, inclusion, and compassion, we aren’t going to resurrect America’s golden years. Those years were built on a commitment to the common good, not its rejection.

As any honest accountant will tell you, no accounting is without fault because no accounting can, by definition, be complete. The context of reality is just too complex and multi-faceted. Reich’s account is no different and many critics, I’m sure, will be quick to point to all of the offenses he chose not to include in his book. I could, too. But that kind of reciprocal finger pointing is one of the forces that undermine the common good today. It is the ultimate “broken window”, as Reich refers to it. The simple fact is that the problem is bigger than the individual injustices that collectively define it.

In the same way, every solution Reich provides (e.g., commitment to truth, education, leadership as trusteeship, etc.) is part of a duality that he doesn’t always fully explore. If we have a responsibility in the name of the common good to universities, for example, they have a responsibility to our common good as well. Again, however, a duality is just that. Or to put it in more colloquial terms, two wrongs don’t make a right.

All told, Robert Reich has a perspective. We all do. In the end, however, I don’t believe his is just a personal perspective. It is the reality: “If we are losing our national identity, it is not because we come in more colors speak more languages than before. If is because we are losing our sense of common good…We have never been a perfect union. Our finest moments have been when we sought to become more perfect than we had been.”

A superb and quick read that should be on everyone’s reading list.
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Jamie
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Compelling
Reviewed in the United States on February 22, 2018
From the very first page, with the details of pharmaceutical CEO Shkreli''s story and the banking CEO Stumpf''s appearance, this book grabbed me by my emotional center as almost no book ever has. Honestly, I feel angry. Actually angry. The reason this book is so... See more
From the very first page, with the details of pharmaceutical CEO Shkreli''s story and the banking CEO Stumpf''s appearance, this book grabbed me by my emotional center as almost no book ever has. Honestly, I feel angry. Actually angry.

The reason this book is so compelling, I think, is that it rings of a truth that I''ve known for a while but haven''t actually heard anyone say. Consider how it starts. It begins with Shkreli, the American hedge fund guy who bought out a pharmaceutical company, then raised the price of a cheap life-saving drug just to make money. In a completely selfish way, he stated that he didn''t care if people couldn''t afford it, because he "was only interested in making money and we live in a capitalist society." He said it wasn''t illegal and he would do everything he could to make more money. He said he regretted not raising the price higher. He antagonized everyone around him. The good news is that he also did illegal things, so they were able to jail him, but what if he hadn''t? What if he only raised the price? It made me think of Epipens, for example, and other drugs, whose price has only recently been raised here in American, whose pharmaceutical owners are making huge profits. It''s not hard to do the math.

So, Shkreli''s story was both fascinating and repulsive, but then Stumpf appears, a criminal parading as good man. It''s hard to know why he bothered, but there Stumpf was, saying politely that he was a man interest in being helpful. It broke soon after that he was making hundreds of millions of dollars destroying millions of American''s lives. Could he really have wanted to be helpful? As I read, I thought about it. But no. Stumpf''s behavior was clearly predatory. He was making money. And he didn''t go to jail. He was too rich.

Robert Reich is talking about these two men first because that''s what is bleeding our society dry now. Our businesses, our politicians, our Congress, and even our president, they are straightforward about making money to the detriment of the good of most of the people. And I think we are brainwashed into thinking this is how it has to be. This book discusses how it was in 1975 and earlier, before Reagonomics took hold, before we allowed the people who are so desperate to make and stockpile an infinite amount of money to the detriment of others in this country.

One last thing. Is there even such a thing as, "A Common Good"? You know, that''s something that Reich talks about a lot throughout this book. As I was reading, a certain realization formed in my own mind. It''s my own opinion. Reich paints a good picture of what the common good is. Here''s what I personally came up with myself but if you read this book, and I think you''ll really enjoy it if you do - "A Common Good" refers to several things, but most importantly, it refers to these things: 1. Recognizing other people as human beings and not hurting each other for any reason, not even to make money (so, not breaking laws and not worrying about laws because you have no desire to break them because you don''t want to hurt anyone); 2. Doing everything you can to help others as long as it doesn''t hurt yourself (so, paying taxes and supporting schools and things like that).

In conclusion, I haven''t ruined the book for you because it''s a lot more than what I''ve just said. It''s really worth reading.
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Book Shark
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Succinct and Solid Book
Reviewed in the United States on February 28, 2018
The Common Good by Robert B. Reich “The Common Good” is a solid book of the good we have had in common, what has happened to it, and what we might do to restore it. Best-selling author and current Professor of Public Policy, Robert B. Reich explains what we owe... See more
The Common Good by Robert B. Reich

“The Common Good” is a solid book of the good we have had in common, what has happened to it, and what we might do to restore it. Best-selling author and current Professor of Public Policy, Robert B. Reich explains what we owe one another as members of the same society. This succinct 209-page book includes ten chapters broken out by the following three parts: I. What is the Common Good?, II. What Happened to the Common Good?, and III. Can the Common Good Be Restored?

Positives:
1. Engaging, well-written, well-researched and fair-minded book that is accessible to the masses.
2. An interesting topic in the expert hands of Professor Reich, what we need to do restore the common good and what happened to it.
3. Succinct, easy book to follow.
4. Focused on the topic of the common good. “I believe we’re bound together by the ideals and principles we share, and the mutual obligations those principles entail.”
5. An interesting look at critics of the common good and their followers. “Rand saw government actions that require people to give their money and resources to other people under the pretext of a “common good” as steps toward tyranny.” “Atlas Shrugged was said to be the favorite book of Rex Tillerson, Trump’s secretary of state. Rand also had a major influence on Mike Pompeo, Trump’s CIA chief. Trump’s first nominee for secretary of labor, Andrew Puzder, said he spent much of his free time reading Rand. The Republican leader of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, required his staff to read Rand.”
6. The role of government. “Government doesn’t “intrude” on the “free market.” It creates the market. Government officials—legislators, administrators, regulators, judges, and heads of state—must decide on and enforce such laws and rules in order for a market to exist.”
7. The importance of safeguarding the truth. “Truth itself is a common good. Through history, one of the first things tyrants have done is attack independent truth-tellers—philosophers (Plato), scientists (Galileo), and the free and independent press—thereby confusing the public and substituting their own “facts.” Without a shared truth, democratic deliberation is hobbled.”
8. The concept of common identity. “Our core identity—the most precious legacy we have been given by the generations who came before us—is the ideals we share, the good we hold in common. If we are losing our national identity, it is not because we are becoming browner or speak in more languages than we once did. It is because we are losing our sense of the common good.”
9. Explains what has happened to the common good. “Modern societies are filled with tacit rules that can be exploited by people who view them as opportunities for selfish gain rather than as social constraints.”
10. Provides a timeline of the common good breakdown with many highlights. “1999 Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act. Clinton joins with congressional Republicans in repealing the act, which since the 1930s had separated commercial banking from investment banking.”
11. Fair-minded. Not afraid to criticize the left as well as the right. “Whatever-it-takes partisanship continued to escalate on both sides. Before the presidential election of 2008, both John McCain, the Republican candidate, and Barack Obama accepted limits on campaign contributions in exchange for public financing. When Obama’s powerful fund-raising ability became apparent, however, he abandoned his commitment.”
12. Many examples of how President Trump has damaged the common good. “Trump escalated conflict to another level. He used white resentment against the nation’s growing population of blacks, Latinos, and immigrants to solidify his largely white, working-class base—urging travel bans on Muslims, immigration enforcement raids on Latino communities, photo IDs to vote, a wall along the Mexican border, the purging of voter registration lists, and bans on transgender personnel in the military. These measures had nothing whatever to do with the central problems facing the nation nor with the deep unease at economic exclusion and vulnerability much of his core base experienced. They served only to advance a narrow political agenda at the expense of the common good.”
13. Provides many examples including three chain reactions that undermined the common good. “A second chain reaction that undermined the common good was set off in the 1980s as “corporate raiders” mounted hostile takeovers of corporations, financed by risky bonds. The raiders made fortunes, Wall Street became the most powerful force in the economy, and CEOs began to devote themselves entirely and obsessively to maximizing the short-term value of shares of stock. The new rule was: Do whatever it takes to make huge profits.”
14. Many examples of rigging the system to benefit the rich. “Corporations have used their profits to give shareholders dividends and buy back their shares of stock—thereby reducing the number of shares outstanding and giving stock prices short-term boosts. All of this has meant more money for the top executives of big companies, whose pay began to be linked to share prices. CEO pay soared from an average of 20 times that of the typical worker in the 1960s to almost 300 times by 2017.”
15. The influence of lobbying. “Business executives haven’t cared which party they contribute to as long as the money gets results.” “After Trump’s charitable foundation made a $25,000 contribution to a campaign organization linked to Florida’s attorney general, she decided not to open a fraud investigation of Trump University that her office had been considering.”
16. Can we restore the common good? “Leaders must see that part of their responsibility is to rebuild public trust in the institutions they oversee.” “A president’s most fundamental responsibility is to uphold and protect our system of government. Trump has weakened that system.” “This is the essence of Trump’s failure of trusteeship—not that he has chosen one set of policies over another, or has divided rather than united Americans, or even that he has behaved in childish and vindictive ways unbecoming a president. It is that he has sacrificed the processes and institutions of American democracy to achieve his goals.”
17. Interesting stories of whistleblowers. “I’m thinking of people like Cheryl Eckard, who, in 2002, as a quality assurance manager at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline, discovered serious problems at its largest plant—drugs produced in nonsterile environments, a water system contaminated with microorganisms, and medicines made in the wrong doses. After Eckard alerted management, she was fired. She then shared her findings with the Food and Drug Administration, and sued the company. After an eight-year trial, GlaxoSmithKline agreed to pay the government $750 million for manufacturing and selling adulterated drug products.”
18. Solutions to restoring the common good. “If we’re serious about restoring the common good, congressional shaming must be followed by legislation and criminal prosecutions that confirm the standard of behavior we expect.”
19. The need to resurrect the truth. “We cannot be effective citizens in a democracy if truths unfavorable to those with power are suppressed, while lies favorable to them are offered as truth.”
20. Includes a discussion guide.

Negatives:
1. It feels more like a long essay than an in-depth book.
2. Very few charts and visual material to complement the narrative.
3. Like a good professor, repetition is in order.

In summary, this is a very good, succinct book on the common good. Reich is a gifted author who takes complex topics and reduces it to clarity. This book is more an essay of the common good versus say an in depth analysis of it. It’s not Saving Capitalism but it’s yet another solid effort by Reich. I recommend it.

Further suggestions: “Saving Capitalism” and “Beyond Outrage” by the same author, “How Democracies Die” by Steven Levitsky, “Inequality” by Anthony B. Atkinson, “The Economics of Inequality” by Thomas Piketty, “The Great Divide” by Joseph Stiglitz, “Winner-Take All Politics” by Jacob S. Hacker, “The Great Escape” by Angus Deaton, “Screwed the Undeclared War Against the Middle Class” by Thom Hartmann, “The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America…” by Michael W. Hudson, “It’s Even Worse Than You Think” and “Perfectly Legal…” by David Cay Johnston, “The Looting of America” by Les Leopold and “The Great American Stickup” by Robert Scheer.
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C. Wagner
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
The solution is more difficult than you would think
Reviewed in the United States on April 2, 2018
The author suggests, that beginning in the 1970s, America switched from the greatest generation to the me generation. He suggests the government does not impede upon free markets but, instead, creates them. Yet, Ayn Rand appears to own modern day government and... See more
The author suggests, that beginning in the 1970s, America switched from the greatest generation to the me generation. He suggests the government does not impede upon free markets but, instead, creates them.
Yet, Ayn Rand appears to own modern day government and Christianity.
“Ayn Rand had it wrong. Moral choices logically involve duties to others, not just calculations about what is best for ourselves.” P. 36.
The chapter “Exploitation,” indicates, rightly so, that the rule breaker often ends up a winner in the race to dystopia. Pp. 52- 63 is a searing list of bad people going even badder. Conduct, according the author, once see as bad is now considered normal.
“…the common good has been subordinated to winning.” P. 74.
It just got worse. Health care insurance was privatized. Corporate “restructuring” mad business mean and lean to profit CEOs and stockholders and the expense of workers and communities. The federal and state governments were purchased by money and paid back their owners.
It’s a rigged game allowing the wealthy to take money from the poor and middle class for their own pleasures.
1. Whatever it takes to maximize profits
2. Whatever it takes to rig the economy
3. Whatever it takes to win politics
The author asks what choice we have than restore a commitment for the common good.
Since the 1980s corporations no longer consider all the stakeholders. The greater good has gone goodbye.
When contributions are solicited, no thought is given about where the money came from. “The subtle message is the common good doesn’t really count. Wealth and power do.” (p. 136.)
I worked for 41 years in a “Carnegie” library. Don’t get me started on Bill and Linda Gates.
Truth telling has been abnegated by money and political power, not just Fox News and the National Enquirer as now (04/03/2018) NBC newscasters have been instructed to say that if the president did not say it, it is fake news. Media serves its stock holders, often at odds with truth. Even Amazon has been attacked.
Gianforte’s attack on Jacobs is becoming the norm. The leading candidate against our remaining Democratic senator asked me to step outside… and I am 70 years old.
Before, during and after the election news has been you know who all the time twenty-four hours a day.
Restoring the common good involves educating our children, says the author, who has apparently never been on a school board. Public education has been so overburdened by government tasks and defunded for private schools that the graduate does not even know what the three branches of government are, let along the goals and objectives of the two major parties.
Faith based leaders have a unique responsibility (p. 154), although the most powerful leaders are against what the author would consider the common good. The major leaders have said you know who is good and even touched by the Hand of God.
I am reminded of Irene Miller, a holocaust survivor and the author of Into No Man’s Land.
Since Israel also offered little hope, she emigrated to America at age twenty-one with her baby and husband. Miller now lives in Michigan.
Her entire extended family had been murdered.
Miller’s love of reading and education allowed her to succeed in life in America.
For age 84, Miller looked great and spoke optimistically.
However, after the program, I spoke personally with Irene Miller.
How, did the beginning of the Nazi years, I asked, compare with the current erosion of the Constitution.
Frankly, I was hoping she would say it cannot happen here, but that was not the response.
She said it was the same- the control of the press, the passage of evil laws, the expressions of hatred toward minority groups.
I guess, we both went away unhappier.
No five star without a better solution.
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Grace A. Kesslick
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Read This Book
Reviewed in the United States on March 4, 2018
I wish everyone would read this book. Hear, honestly hear, what Mr. Reich is saying. As a contemporary of this man, I can attest to the world we both grew up in in the mid-20th Century. I get and regret our national loss of commitment to the common good. Until Trump’s... See more
I wish everyone would read this book. Hear, honestly hear, what Mr. Reich is saying. As a contemporary of this man, I can attest to the world we both grew up in in the mid-20th Century. I get and regret our national loss of commitment to the common good. Until Trump’s election, I had some vague hope that maybe things could turn around and that perhaps President Obama could move us all forward to civil commitment . Lord knows ,he tried. But now, I had little hope... until those brave youngsters at Parkland Fl stepped forth. They encourage me, as do my grandchildren. I hope...
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Mal Warwick
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A liberal tackles the sins of both Republicans and Democrats
Reviewed in the United States on April 11, 2018
Robert B. Reich examines the American body politic with a critical eye in his new book, The Common Good, and finds it dangerously diseased. The former Secretary of Labor, now a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, laments the loss of a... See more
Robert B. Reich examines the American body politic with a critical eye in his new book, The Common Good, and finds it dangerously diseased. The former Secretary of Labor, now a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, laments the loss of a commitment to public morality that for decades enabled Democrats and Republicans to unite in common purpose for the good of the country. What ails American society, he insists, is the absence of the shared values that drew so many millions of immigrants to our shores—the "ideas about what we owe one another."

What ails American society
"What we have lost, I think," writes Reich, "is a sense of our connectedness to each other and to our ideals—the America that John F. Kennedy asked that we contribute to. Starting in the late 1970s, Americans began talking less about the common good and more about self-aggrandizement. The shift is the hallmark of our era: from the ''Greatest Generation'' to the ''Me Generation,'' from ''we''re all in it together'' to ''you''re on your own.''" Sad as it is, this analysis helps put in perspective the events of the past fifty years that set the stage for Donald Trump''s election. "Trump is not the cause" of all this, Reich insists. "He is a consequence—the logical outcome of what has unfolded over many years."

A litany of errors
Although Reich is a professed liberal, and far from shy about it, his analysis is by no means one-sided. In the litany of wrong turns US society has taken over the past half-century, he includes a number of those that must be laid at the feet of the Democratic Party. Liberals like so many of us in Berkeley are quick to single out the sins of the Reagan, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump Administrations. We too infrequently cite those steps taken by Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, but Reich does not. Of course, Watergate, Iran-Contra, and the invasion of Iraq appear on his list. But so do the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Robert Bork''s rejection, the repeal of Glass-Steagall, and the failure to prosecute the bankers responsible for the Great Recession.

The blame extends far beyond Washington
However, Reich doesn''t limit himself to condemning the sins of politicians. His list of the events that explain why Americans now place little trust in institutions includes just as prominently the actions of media, business, and financial leaders. The standouts among them are the 1971 Lewis Powell memo that ignited Big Business'' war against the liberal consensus, the Savings & Loan scandal, the Arthur Andersen scandal, Goldman Sachs'' double-dealing with derivatives, Bernie Madoff''s Ponzi scheme, and over-the-top misbehavior by Travis Kalanick and Martin Shkreli. (I would have added the advent of Fox News and right-wing talk radio to this list.) Viewing all these events in a single list that goes on, page after page, is an uncomfortable reminder of just how far we''ve traveled from a commitment to the common good.

Can this drift toward division and distrust be reversed?
Reich''s diagnosis is irrefutable. The ills of American society are there for all to see. But his prognosis is sadly overoptimistic. In The Common Good, he uses the word "must" 68 times, "should" 71 times, and "need" in the sense of "need to" two dozen times. Reich concedes that the changes he advocates might require half a century or more. However, I wonder when that half-century might start. I see no signs on the horizon that the last half-century of steady drift toward inequality and division will be addressed in any meaningful way. Even if Democrats retake both houses of Congress in 2018 . . . even if Donald Trump is compelled to answer for his crimes and is forced out of office before his term ends . . . even if Democrats also retake the White House in 2020 . . . can Professor Reich, or anyone else for that matter, seriously contend that a deeply divided Democratic Party will come together around the radical reforms essential to begin moving the pendulum in a decisively different direction?
4 people found this helpful
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EH
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Should Be Extant For Decades To Come
Reviewed in the United States on March 26, 2018
This is the best of several Reich books I have read over the years. Some of his work leans dry and academic — not so this book, which lies somewhere between poem and sermon. It is a work of philosophy in crystal clear prose. It enlightens and inspires but isn’t dumbed... See more
This is the best of several Reich books I have read over the years. Some of his work leans dry and academic — not so this book, which lies somewhere between poem and sermon. It is a work of philosophy in crystal clear prose. It enlightens and inspires but isn’t dumbed down — in fact, the author’s vast erudition is on full display. The book is sprinkled with brilliant quotes from everyone from Einstein to St. Augustine. This one will be remembered long after Reich is gone! Everyone should enjoy reading it — Republicans, Democrats, socialists and hardcore capitalists; it’s just good common sense.
7 people found this helpful
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Kem White
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
An Important Essay on Improving America
Reviewed in the United States on April 22, 2018
Reich gives us his ideas for how to get back to an America based on the American ideal of a shared, common good, nurturing and sustaining the shared community we should have in this country. Reich argues that doing this requires Americans to revive a way of thinking and... See more
Reich gives us his ideas for how to get back to an America based on the American ideal of a shared, common good, nurturing and sustaining the shared community we should have in this country. Reich argues that doing this requires Americans to revive a way of thinking and behaving: trustee leadership, civic education emphasizing critical thinking and skepticism, appropriate use of honor and shame, and most importantly, a passion for truth.

He describes well what the Common Good should be in this country and how it existed earlier in our history. He decries the current "take no prisoners" situation in government and business. But, other than broad strokes, the book is short on direct, actionable ways to proceed. He doesn''t spend much time directly lambasting our current corrupt administration. He spends more time excoriating unethical business leaders and Wall Street.

Reich''s book is really a long essay but it''s one that should be read by every American. This book is accessible high schoolers and provides useful discussion questions. Recommended.
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Top reviews from other countries

Torben Mogensen
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Why public service is important
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on May 28, 2018
I have to admitt, I am fan of Robert Reich. Very easy reading of complexs problem.
I have to admitt, I am fan of Robert Reich. Very easy reading of complexs problem.
One person found this helpful
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Rule 62 Ken
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
A Reasoned Call to Unselfish Action
Reviewed in Canada on June 13, 2019
Robert Reich is an economist and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997 and was a member of President-elect Barack Obama''s economic transition...See more
Robert Reich is an economist and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997 and was a member of President-elect Barack Obama''s economic transition advisory board. Dr. Reich presents himself as a voice of reason in these highly polarized political times, with one of his signature issues being a deep concern over the growing gap between rich and poor and the rise of income disparity. He once again addresses this subject, though from a different angle, in his 2018 book The Common Good. In the book, Dr. Reich makes the case that there has been an alarming shift in the public attitude from one of working for the benefit of the populace as a whole, to one of personal gain and gratification, a win-at-all-cost,"what''s in it for me?" mentality. He makes the case that there is an urgent need to change this way of thinking and return to the philosophy espoused in John F. Kennedy''s famous statement about asking not what the nation can do for the individual, but what the individual can do for the greater good. Dr. Reich addresses his subject over 184 pages in three parts. In the first part he attempts to define what is meant by the "common good", focusing on the example of vulture capitalist Martin Shkreli, who justified raising the price of the essential medication Daraprim from $13.50 to over $750 per pill overnight, by claiming that his duty to maximize profit for his company''s shareholders was more important than any moral obligation to those requiring the medication. Reich goes on to discuss the societal transition from public good to private gain in many fields, including politics, education, sports, and in the corporate world, noting how the focus has changed from one of concern for the good of society as a whole, to a self-centered focus on making as much money as possible, while staying one step ahead of arrest. In the second part of the book, Dr. Reich attempts a historical analysis of how this transition occurred, citing four events in particular as giving substantial impetus for this chance in societal character. In the final section, he proposes a number of remedies to get society back on the right track, including changes in education, appropriate honor and shaming, vigilance against distortion of news and information distribution, and a commitment to and a plan requiring public service, much like the military draft that was once in place. The most convincing part of the book is in Dr. Reich''s analysis of current corporate leadership. He notes that there had once been the view that corporate leadership took in a multitude of interests besides shareholders: employees and their families, unions, consumers, and the environment. He notes how this has changed to the point where attention by CEOs to anything other than the financial bottom line is not only highly discouraged, but in fact punished. Much of this book is an attack on President Donald Trump, citing him as a central example of how the common good has been sacrificed in favor of selfish gain at the expense of civility and integrity. These portions will delight the President''s detractors, while causing his supporters to write off the rest of the book as partisan rhetoric. On the one hand, it is understandable how the author may wish to illustrate some of his points by using examples of the win-at-all-costs philosophy committed by leadership at this level. On the other hand, it is problematic for the author to get his message of abandoning partisan interest in favor of the common good and the need for unity on this issue by participating in the political polarization, alienating a large segment of the population, and giving them a reason to dismiss his important message as poorly-veiled partisanship. Readers will have to objectively discern for themselves the correctness of this approach. The central message of this book is an important one, not only at a political and corporate level, but at an individual level. At its core, this book asks us how much we as individuals are willing to put aside our individual "what''s in it for me" approach in favor of one that is rooted in a "love thy neighbor" philosophy. It is one thing for all of us to point fingers at politicians and corporations for being selfish and driven by personal profit. But are we as individuals willing to engage in such a paradigm shift when doing so means that our own personal wealth may be adversely affected? Dr. Reich deserves high marks for making us think about such an important question so vital to our future and that of coming generations.
Robert Reich is an economist and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He served as Secretary of Labor in the Cabinet of President Bill Clinton from 1993 to 1997 and was a member of President-elect Barack Obama''s economic transition advisory board. Dr. Reich presents himself as a voice of reason in these highly polarized political times, with one of his signature issues being a deep concern over the growing gap between rich and poor and the rise of income disparity. He once again addresses this subject, though from a different angle, in his 2018 book The Common Good. In the book, Dr. Reich makes the case that there has been an alarming shift in the public attitude from one of working for the benefit of the populace as a whole, to one of personal gain and gratification, a win-at-all-cost,"what''s in it for me?" mentality. He makes the case that there is an urgent need to change this way of thinking and return to the philosophy espoused in John F. Kennedy''s famous statement about asking not what the nation can do for the individual, but what the individual can do for the greater good.

Dr. Reich addresses his subject over 184 pages in three parts. In the first part he attempts to define what is meant by the "common good", focusing on the example of vulture capitalist Martin Shkreli, who justified raising the price of the essential medication Daraprim from $13.50 to over $750 per pill overnight, by claiming that his duty to maximize profit for his company''s shareholders was more important than any moral obligation to those requiring the medication. Reich goes on to discuss the societal transition from public good to private gain in many fields, including politics, education, sports, and in the corporate world, noting how the focus has changed from one of concern for the good of society as a whole, to a self-centered focus on making as much money as possible, while staying one step ahead of arrest.

In the second part of the book, Dr. Reich attempts a historical analysis of how this transition occurred, citing four events in particular as giving substantial impetus for this chance in societal character. In the final section, he proposes a number of remedies to get society back on the right track, including changes in education, appropriate honor and shaming, vigilance against distortion of news and information distribution, and a commitment to and a plan requiring public service, much like the military draft that was once in place. The most convincing part of the book is in Dr. Reich''s analysis of current corporate leadership. He notes that there had once been the view that corporate leadership took in a multitude of interests besides shareholders: employees and their families, unions, consumers, and the environment. He notes how this has changed to the point where attention by CEOs to anything other than the financial bottom line is not only highly discouraged, but in fact punished.

Much of this book is an attack on President Donald Trump, citing him as a central example of how the common good has been sacrificed in favor of selfish gain at the expense of civility and integrity. These portions will delight the President''s detractors, while causing his supporters to write off the rest of the book as partisan rhetoric. On the one hand, it is understandable how the author may wish to illustrate some of his points by using examples of the win-at-all-costs philosophy committed by leadership at this level. On the other hand, it is problematic for the author to get his message of abandoning partisan interest in favor of the common good and the need for unity on this issue by participating in the political polarization, alienating a large segment of the population, and giving them a reason to dismiss his important message as poorly-veiled partisanship. Readers will have to objectively discern for themselves the correctness of this approach.

The central message of this book is an important one, not only at a political and corporate level, but at an individual level. At its core, this book asks us how much we as individuals are willing to put aside our individual "what''s in it for me" approach in favor of one that is rooted in a "love thy neighbor" philosophy. It is one thing for all of us to point fingers at politicians and corporations for being selfish and driven by personal profit. But are we as individuals willing to engage in such a paradigm shift when doing so means that our own personal wealth may be adversely affected? Dr. Reich deserves high marks for making us think about such an important question so vital to our future and that of coming generations.
3 people found this helpful
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Guy Dauncey
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Let the passion bleed and sing off the pages!
Reviewed in Canada on April 25, 2018
This is a great book, and the five-star reviewers in the US amazon site have said everything as well as I could. I just want to add one thing - to the publishers. If you are bringing out a paperback version, please make the cover and design suit Robert Reich''s anger, rage,...See more
This is a great book, and the five-star reviewers in the US amazon site have said everything as well as I could. I just want to add one thing - to the publishers. If you are bringing out a paperback version, please make the cover and design suit Robert Reich''s anger, rage, passion and love. The hard back design makes it look and feel like a studious work of 19th century moral philosophy that no-one under 40 is ever going to read. So please - spice it up! Show colour! Include more illustrations and diagrams! Let the passion bleed and sing off the pages!
This is a great book, and the five-star reviewers in the US amazon site have said everything as well as I could. I just want to add one thing - to the publishers. If you are bringing out a paperback version, please make the cover and design suit Robert Reich''s anger, rage, passion and love. The hard back design makes it look and feel like a studious work of 19th century moral philosophy that no-one under 40 is ever going to read.

So please - spice it up! Show colour! Include more illustrations and diagrams! Let the passion bleed and sing off the pages!
One person found this helpful
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Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Find the common good or US society is doomed
Reviewed in Australia on December 4, 2020
The author takes us on a well informed journey on what is causing poverty in Western Societies. However, much of the dialogue pertains to USA and it''s Constitution and how society has strayed due to competition and self interest rather than determining the impact on...See more
The author takes us on a well informed journey on what is causing poverty in Western Societies. However, much of the dialogue pertains to USA and it''s Constitution and how society has strayed due to competition and self interest rather than determining the impact on communities. This has led to great disparities between the few at the top and the masses. The American Dream is dead if this continues unabated.
The author takes us on a well informed journey on what is causing poverty in Western Societies. However, much of the dialogue pertains to USA and it''s Constitution and how society has strayed due to competition and self interest rather than determining the impact on communities. This has led to great disparities between the few at the top and the masses. The American Dream is dead if this continues unabated.
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Sebastian
5.0 out of 5 starsVerified Purchase
Was uns verloren gegangen ist
Reviewed in Germany on October 29, 2018
Bin jetzt zur Hälfte durch. Tolles Buch. Komplexer Sachverhalt, einfach vermittelt. Warum der Gemeinsamkeitsgedanke in uns verloren geht und warum er so wichtig ist. Meiner Meinung nach sollte das jeder Lesen, der in der Politik und Wirtschaft zu tun hat. Oder einfach an...See more
Bin jetzt zur Hälfte durch. Tolles Buch. Komplexer Sachverhalt, einfach vermittelt. Warum der Gemeinsamkeitsgedanke in uns verloren geht und warum er so wichtig ist. Meiner Meinung nach sollte das jeder Lesen, der in der Politik und Wirtschaft zu tun hat. Oder einfach an einer vernünftig funktionierenden Gesellschaft interessiert ist.
Bin jetzt zur Hälfte durch. Tolles Buch. Komplexer Sachverhalt, einfach vermittelt. Warum der Gemeinsamkeitsgedanke in uns verloren geht und warum er so wichtig ist. Meiner Meinung nach sollte das jeder Lesen, der in der Politik und Wirtschaft zu tun hat. Oder einfach an einer vernünftig funktionierenden Gesellschaft interessiert ist.
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