The former United States Secretary of Labour, Robert Reich, conducted a teleconference on American inequality with the Edinburgh Political Union on Monday.
Reich served under the Ford and Carter administrations and was Secretary of Labour between 1993 and 1997 under President Bill Clinton.
He has since served as a political commentator, an author and, currently, is a professor of Public Policy at University of California, Berkeley.
Reich conducted the teleconference in his office, which was adorned with several posters of Franklin D Roosevelt, a ‘Workers Unite’ poster, and a wall of filled bookshelves.
He began the conversation with a few quips about the election and President-elect Trump, before diving into a serious discussion lasting more than an hour.
During the conference, Reich discussed American wealth inequality, and how it affected the results the recent US presidential election.
Reich noted that Donald Trump’s victory should be understood “as anti-establishment populism”, a decision that was made “against an establishment that is no longer in touch with the working-class electorate.”
Lingering anger among the American public over the 2008 Wall Street bailout, Trump’s promise of change, and the Democrats failure to reinvent itself as “a party of the people” were also cited as reasons for the Republican victory.
In his explanation of wealth inequality in the US, Reich discussed the combination of globalisation, technological change, and political power as the main factors.
He explained that the pace at which technology is changing has far exceeded the pace at which people can adjust.
He also noted that the political consequence of having great wealth among an elite few is that the wealth is quickly transformed to political power.
“The economy doesn’t function well because there is no spending power in the lower and middle classes,” he said, noting that the typical household income in the US is now approximately four per cent lower than it was in the year 2000.
He continued: “While there formerly existed coping mechanisms to this growing inequality, such as an increased female workforce, longer working hours, and the beginnings (and endings) of borrowing, which all postponed the 2008 recession, it is now difficult to say how the American public will deal with inequality under a Trump presidency.”
The evening, made possible by the Edinburgh Political Union, provided an expert’s insight into American politics, which was well-received by the audience in attendance.