We have to seriously consider a universal basic income — Reich

Bill Clinton's Labour Secretary on Donald Trump, the TPP and the future of work. 

Declining incomes, widening inequality and job insecurity mean one day we will have to seriously consider a universal basic income, says Robert Reich, the labour secretary in Bill Clinton's cabinet.

He compaires Donald Trump to fascist leaders, saying he is a politician in the tradition of Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler.

“I do feel it’s important for decent people in America and around the world to stand up to this demagoguery," he says.

The TPP is an investment deal not a trade deal, he says “an agreement created by and for global corporations." But he concedes it does some good for countries such as Vietnam and Peru.

Time Magazine once voted Robert Reich as one of the most influential US cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century.

Now based at the University of California, he doesn’t shy away from controversy, attacking the US Supreme Court, international trade deals and the Republican establishment.

And despite being friends with Bill and Hillary Clinton, he is openly backing Bernie Sanders.

RAW DATA: The Nation transcript: Patrick Gower talks to former Clinton administration Labour Secretary Robert Reich

Watch the interview here

When Patrick Gower sat down with Robert Reich, he started by asking him about Donald Trump and why the race for America’s top job has become so ugly.

Robert Reich: I think that Donald Trump is diminishing and endangering the presidency and the entire political process by inciting violence, by turning people against one another, by using hateful rhetoric and by lying repeatedly about almost everything. You know, the fact that somebody like that can make it this far must cause people in other nations to wonder what in the world has happened to the United States, to American democracy? Let me at least assure people that only 24% of Americans are registered Republicans and Donald Trump has captured, at least up to date, only about 30% of those 24%. So in other words, fewer than 8% of Americans are actively supporting Donald Trump. This is not the face of America.

Patrick Gower: Now, you have recently compared him to a fascist. You’ve compared him to Mussolini, to Stalin, even to Hitler. A very big call. You stand by that, comparing Donald Trump to Hitler?

I think it’s perfectly appropriate to compare Donald Trump to some of the fascists of the 1930s and ‘40s in the sense of the techniques they used – the big lie, the pitting certain people against others, the scapegoating of racial and ethnic minorities, the danger that they pose. And I think the analogy is particularly important, because we know what happened as a result of Mussolini and Franco and Hitler and Stalin. We know the danger was effectuated. It really hurt millions and millions of people. Now, I don’t think Donald Trump and I hope Donald Trump is never in a position to do that, but someone in this tradition has absolutely no business being the primary major candidate of a major party in the United States.

You stand by comparing Donald Trump to Hitler?

Well, I stand by comparing him to the fascists. I don’t know that it’s fair to compare him to one particular fascist. I think Hitler is probably a monster on his own. But I do think that it is important to see Donald Trump as part of a tradition of a politician who has caused enormous destruction in the world.

What has given rise to this surge by Donald Trump? What’s beneath it?

Indeed, what’s given rise to in a very different dimension the phenomenon of Bernie Sanders is the anger and frustration that so many Americans feel about working so hard and getting nowhere. And the overwhelming – it’s really more than a suspicion – sense that they have that the game is rigged in favour of people at the top – big corporations, the billionaires, Wall Street. And so that’s fodder for demagogues on the right. It’s also the stuff of—

Is he a demagogue as well? He’s a demagogue? Donald Trump is a demagogue?

Donald Trump is a demagogue.

 Okay, carry on.

I think that that kind of anger and frustration can also have a positive side, because it can move people to reform, to effective action. I think Bernie Sanders, for example, is talking about a political revolution that would get big money out of politics and rescue American democracy. I think that’s terribly important.

Is Donald Trump dangerous, not just for America but for the rest of the world?

I do feel it’s important for decent people in America and around the world to stand up to this demagoguery. I think it’s important not to permit the things that have been said.

So Hillary Clinton, you’ve known her since she was 19 years old. You worked for Bill Clinton in his cabinet for many years. Do you endorse her to become president?

I think Hillary Clinton, who, as you’ve said, I’ve known since she was 19 and worked very closely with her, would make an excellent president of the political system the United States now has.

So you’re saying she’s the best person for the system, but does that mean she’s the best person for president in your mind?

Well, I’ve also said that I think Bernie Sanders is the best candidate to change that political system into one that America needs, getting big money out of politics, making democracy work better.

So you actually think Bernie Sanders would be a better president?

For the economy we need and for the politics we need, I think he would be. That’s why I endorsed him.

Changing now to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, something you know a lot about, something you actually really dislike. You hate the TPP, don’t you? Why is that?

I think the Trans-Pacific Partnership is not a trade deal. I think it’s an investment deal. It protects international investors, which is okay on its face, but it also would negate many future health and safety and environmental and other regulations that governments put in place to protect their people. New Zealand, for example, probably would not be able to protect New Zealand property from the encroachment of wealthy foreigners. A democracy is about protecting a set of people, health, safety, environment, public welfare. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would make it much more difficult for governments to protect their people and for that reason, I’m opposed.

But what about in countries like Vietnam, like Peru, where they will get access to rights that they haven’t had before, such as a minimum wage and things like that? Surely the TPP is good in that respect?

While I approve of the TPP’s labour and environmental provisions,  I think that the dangers that the TPP poses to the ability of any government to protect its people in terms of their health, their safety, their environment and public welfare overwhelms those advantages.

So you think that it protects the corporates, it protects—?

I think the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is essentially an agreement created by and for global corporations to protect their interests, to advance their interests. In the provisions of the TPP that would override national health, safety, environment regulations and provisions for a nation’s public’s welfare, I think that it’s a bad deal.

And now changing to the future of work, which is what you’re out in New Zealand for, what is the future of work? How is it going to change?

The trends are all toward three specific growing problems. It doesn’t mean that we have to invariably live with them and that they are necessarily our future, but we have to deal with them and reverse them – number one, staggered or declining incomes adjusted for inflation for most people, number two, widening inequality with not only the lower half doing less well but people at the very top doing far better, and number three, massive insecurity about what one will be paid or even if one will have a job tomorrow or next week or next month.

And you view as a solution to that the universal basic income, which is a universal payment to everyone, everyone in the country. Everyone in New Zealand would get a basic payment, for instance?

No, I don’t think that politically a universal basic income could sell right now, and I don’t think it’s necessary right at the moment. There are still a lot of jobs, people with a wage supplement, such as you have for lower-wage jobs here in New Zealand, can get by, and the combination with that wage supplement and the minimum wage I think are probably the right and correct steps. Investments in education, job training, vocational and technical education are also important. But we will get to a point, all our societies, where technology is displacing so many jobs, not just menial jobs but also professional jobs, that we’re going to have to take seriously the notion of a universal basic income.

Now, Robert Reich, thank you very much for time, but before you go, a prediction – who will be president of the United States by the end of this year?

Bernie Sanders.

Thank you very much for your time. It’s a good place to leave it.


Thank you.

Tune into NBR Radio’s Sunday Business with Andrew Patterson on Sunday morning, for analysis and feature-length interviews.

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