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Published on November 22nd, 2017 | by Steve Hanley


What Do “Saving Capitalism” & Saving The Environment Have In Common?

November 22nd, 2017 by  

On Tuesday, November 21, Saving Capitalism — the movie based on the book of the same name by Robert Reich — premiered on Netflix. Why should concerned climate advocate like yourself care? Because capitalism run amok is precisely what has driven the world to the edge of disaster and will soon push us over into the abyss.

saving capitalism trailer

There are lots of ideas out there about how to cool the earth, from shuttering coal power plants and switching to renewable energy, to shooting the atmosphere full of more pollutants in the hope that they will blot out part of the sun’s rays. All of them have economic ramifications we should be aware of.

Robert Reich is an unreconstructed New Dealer with roots deep in the labor movements that shaped America in the last century. He served as Bill Clinton’s Labor Secretary but also worked under Presidents Carter and Ford. Over the years, he has built a reputation for presenting his progressive point of view in a way that is unapologetic yet respectful of those who hold contrary opinions. He also presents them in concise and compelling ways.

Lessons From Louis Brandeis

He and I were in college together, though I doubt he would remember me. Even then, he was a well known presence on campus and almost as popular as the quarterback of the football team. That’s pretty remarkable since Reich is only 4′ 11″ tall  as the result of a childhood malady that stunted his growth.

Reich’s world view is best summed up by a quote from Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, whose likeness hangs prominently in his office. “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both,” the distinguished jurist once said.

And that’s the connection to climate change. Wealth inequality in America has accelerated in the past decade. According to Business Insider, 95% of all wealth created since the housing crisis of 2008 has gone to the top 1%. The Citizens United decision by the Supreme Court has exacerbated the divide by declaring everyone has a right to spend as much as they wish to influence the electoral process, completely overlooking the notion that someone who has a one million watt amplifier can shout a lot louder than someone with an old fashioned megaphone.

Packing The Courts With Knee-Jerk Reactionaries

The result is the wealthy — many of whom got their wealth from the fossil fuel industry — are now in total control of the US Congress, the White House, and the government of many states. The only branch of government they don’t fully control yet is the judiciary, but that is about to change. Donald Trump has recently released a list of 5 ultra conservative justices he intends to nominate to the Supreme Court when the next vacancy occurs.

Before that happens, Trump has every intention of packing the federal courts with knee-jerk ideologues who will faithfully implement his conservative reactionary policies. These will be the judges who hear cases brought by environmental advocates such as Our Children’s Trust, which argues that government has an obligation to protect its citizens from harm caused by carbon emissions and other forms of pollution. Such arguments will get a chilly reception from such judges. The Supreme Court last year blocked the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. Expect the courts to become increasingly hostile to environmental concerns.

A Master Explainer

One of Reich’s fans and biggest supporters is Alan Simpson, former Republican senator from Wyoming. “He can never be accused of being a zealot,” Simpson tells Bill Moyers & Company reporter Danny Feingold. “A zealot is one who, having forgotten his purpose, redoubles his efforts. He is not that. He’s a very complex and a very deep, centered human being. And he thinks of human beings who are not doing well, and he gravitates toward, ‘How do you solve that?’”

Reich sums up his activism this way: “Anybody who thinks that the answer is found in policy has not been paying attention. Good policies are a dime a dozen. The real issue now is a matter of power. How in the world do you get good policies enacted and enforced?” That takes a lot of explaining and not from atop a soapbox but down in the trenches, side by side with supporters and opponents alike.

“Bob is one of the best explainers out there,” says Jared Bernstein, former chief economist for Vice President Joe Biden. “He takes issues that are complicated and multilayered and distills their essence into quick, simple, accurate and entertaining points that make sense to any interested party. Listening to Bob is like watching a master musician or athlete.”

Working From The Middle

The proof that Reich is somewhere in the middle of the current political debate in America comes from the reaction he got when he went on tour to promote Saving Capitalism, the book that forms the basis for the movie. In so-called red states, his audience was miffed because of the title. “It sounds like you are being critical. ‘What’s wrong with capitalism?’ they asked. When he returned to Berkeley, where he is a member of the faculty, people were also miffed. ‘Why do you want to save it?’” they wanted to know.

In today’s superheated political arena, the voice of one man may do little to bring people together, but politics will have as much or more influence on how America responds to the challenge of global warming as studies and scientific reports. You owe it to yourself to watch Saving Capitalism on Netflix and maybe sign up as a follower of his Facebook page to keep yourself well informed about how capitalism and climate advocacy can peacefully coexist. Here’s the trailer for the movie.


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About the Author

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his homes in Florida and Connecticut or anywhere else the Singularity may lead him. You can follow him on Twitter but not on any social media platforms run by evil overlords like Facebook.

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