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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 9/7/15

A Crisis of Public Morality, Not Private Morality

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Reprinted from Robert Reich Website

From commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boss_Tweed,_Thomas_Nast.jpg: Boss Tweed, Thomas Nast--Hillary and Bill Clinton (together)ate the new--and deadlier--Boss Tweed.
From commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Boss_Tweed,_Thomas_Nast.jpg: Boss Tweed, Thomas Nast--Hillary and Bill Clinton (together)ate the new--and deadlier--Boss Tweed.
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At a time many Republican presidential candidates and state legislators are furiously focusing on private morality -- what people do in their bedrooms, contraception, abortion, gay marriage -- America is experiencing a far more significant crisis in public morality.

CEOs of large corporations now earn 300 times the wages of average workers. Insider trading is endemic on Wall Street, where hedge-fund and private-equity moguls are taking home hundreds of millions.

A handful of extraordinarily wealthy people are investing unprecedented sums in the upcoming election, seeking to rig the economy for their benefit even more than it's already rigged.

Yet the wages of average working people continue to languish as jobs are off-shored or off-loaded onto "independent contractors."

All this is in sharp contrast to the first three decades after World War II.

Then, the typical CEO earned no more than 40 times what the typical worker earned, and Wall Street was boring.

Then, the wealthy didn't try to control elections.

And in that era, the wages of most Americans rose.

Profitable firms didn't lay off their workers. They didn't replace full-time employees with independent contractors, or bust unions. They gave their workers a significant share of the gains.

Consumers, workers, and the community were considered stakeholders of almost equal entitlement.

We invested in education and highways and social services. We financed all of this with our taxes.

The marginal income tax on the highest income earners never fell below 70 percent. Even the effective rate, after all deductions and tax credits, was still well above 50%.

We had a shared sense of public morality because we knew we were all in it together. We had been through a Great Depression and a terrible war, and we understood our interdependence.

But over time, we forgot.

The change began when Wall Street convinced the Reagan Administration and subsequent administrations to repeal regulations put in place after the crash of 1929 to prevent a repeat of the excesses that had led to the Great Depression.

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Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, has a new film, "Inequality for All," to be released September 27. He blogs at www.robertreich.org.

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