Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said Monday he is fundamentally optimistic for the future, even though inequality is a significant and growing problem for America.
“I look at history and see that every time our own system of capitalism has gone off track we put aside ideology…and very pragmatically get on with what needs to be done,” he told a crowd of 400 at the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego in La Jolla.
Reich, labor secretary under President Clinton and now a professor at UC Berkeley, said it is hard not to be optimistic when he teaches some of the best and brightest young people.
He was in San Diego for a screening of his 2013 documentary “Inequality for All” sponsored by the San Diego Foundation Center for Civic Engagement and the UC San Diego Blum Cross-Border Initiative. After the film, he took questions from the audience for more than 30 minutes.
The documentary draws attention to rising income inequality in America and the danger that poses to a democracy based on equality.
He said the proximity of great wealth and great poverty in the San Diego-Tijuana region will be a challenge for civic leaders on both sides of the border. “You have some of the richest people in the world living 20 minutes from some of the poorest people,” he said, but added that San Diego “can actually create a model for the rest of the world.”
Among the other issues he touched on:
- Minimum wage — Putting more money in people’s pockets has a multiplier effect, so raising the minimum wage will create jobs.
- Immigration — The economic data shows that immigrants benefit America. Moreover, immigration will help America avoid the trap of an aging population that faces China, Japan and Europe.
- Community colleges — These are “among the great unsung heroes of American education.”
- Anti-trust law — This is really pro-competition, because it prevents monopolies and oligopolies from crushing startups.
- Tea Party and Occupy movements — “It’s too easy to indulge in the politics of blame,” he said, and by focusing on “resentment and anger we get nowhere at all.”
Reich spoke to a sympathetic crowd, and the screening of his movie ended with a standing ovation, but Reich cautioned “get outside your bubble and talk with people who disagree with you.”
The Center for Civic Engagement is attempting to facilitate dialogue and collaborative action in the San Diego area while the Blum Initiative promotes research into poverty in the San Diego-Tijuana region, the largest bi-national metropolitan area in the world.
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