Big Talk

Asked if the simplicity by which he writes and talks is a democratic ethic, Robert Reich replies succinctly: “Ha!”

George Orwell wrote that “political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.” Robert Reich – economist, author, professor, filmmaker, former Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton – would agree.

“If it can’t be explained in layman’s terms – simply and clearly,” he writes by email, “then the person doing the talking either doesn’t understand the issue or is trying to obfuscate.”

And he tries to ensure, in TV and radio interviews, documentaries, lectures, books, blogs and articles, that he cannot be accused of either. He comes to Monterey 7-9pm this Monday to talk on a panel about economics in the Leon Panetta Lecture Series.

He’ll be joined by Michael Boskin, former chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers under President George H.W. Bush; Christina Romer, former chair of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers under President Barack Obama; and co-chair of the Simpson-Bowles Commission and former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyoming.

Reich, who is 4 feet 10 inches, has spoken in several forums, including past Panetta lectures, with the 6-foot-7-inch Simpson. They even coined a name for their economics inequality debate: “The long and the short of it.”

Reich has said what is needed in such debates is respect, civility, the willingness to listen, and humor. The content of his own thinking leans toward supporting middle class, working class and poor people, and weaning the rich off overly favorable government largesse.

“The economy can’t grow and businesses can’t do well without customers, and an adequate customer base requires a buoyant and growing middle class, along with opportunities for the poor to ascend into it,” he writes in an email. “The rich would do better with a smaller share of a rapidly-growing economy than they’re doing now, with a large share of one that’s barely growing at all.”

Reich was responsible for implementing the Family and Medical Leave Act, has supported increasing the minimum wage, and served on President Obama’s economic transition advisory board through the Great Recession. His “day job” is professor of public policy at UC Berkeley.

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But economics is just his most core message. He calls the issues of widening inequality, an under-educated citizenry, climate change and nuclear proliferation “dangerous trends.” But he has signs of hope at the ready.

“The movement for equal marriage rights has been one of the most remarkable I’ve witnessed for some time. A decade ago, I wouldn’t have predicted the nation would elect a black president.”

In the interest of making the lectures accessible, they are streamed liveand rebroadcast on local television. But Reich has more sources he recommends to those wanting to understand, in simple terms, economics, labor and politics. For nonfiction: www.RobertReich.org. And in fiction: “Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life. It’s all there.”

Leon Panetta Lecture Series 7pm Monday at Monterey Conference Center. Sold out, tickets may become available day of event. 582-4200, www.panettainstitute.org

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