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...
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?
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.
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.