Former Secretary of Labor speaks on campus

Callie Miller

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich spoke at WKU on Wednesday to kick off the semester’s first Cultural Enhancement Series event.

Reich, an author of 14 books and founding editor of the “American Prospect” magazine, hosted a question and answer session in Grise Hall and later gave a lecture in Van Meter Hall to a nearly full auditorium.

Dean of Gordon Ford College of Business Jeffrey Katz introduced Reich as a “deep thinker for the economy” prior to the Q&A.

Reich is currently a professor at the University of Berkeley. He’s served under three national administrations, most recently as Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Reich also served on former President Obama’s economic transition advisory board, and he was named one of TIME Magazine’s “10 Best Cabinet Members of the Century.” Reich also served as the director of the policy planning staff at the Federal Trade Commission.

Reich, a self proclaimed “class worrier,” not to be confused with class warrior, said by coming to WKU and other universities, his personal wish is to get more young people involved in public service.

“That’s my special goal,” he said. “People who have experience in both government and [academics] to go to universities and colleges and give students a sense of the relationship between what they are learning in the classroom and what they could be doing, particularly in public service.”

Katz said he hoped audience members would learn the value of public service through Reich’s lecture. Katz has served on the Cultural Enhancement Series Committee for about four years and was one of the decision makers in bringing Reich to WKU.

“We thought that having somebody that has a background in government, economics and business would be an interesting speaker.” Katz said. “Along the way Professor Reich’s name came up, and everyone seemed pretty excited about him coming to campus.”

During his Q&A, Reich emphasized to students the importance of learning about other disciplines within the business school apart from their specific majors.

“The walls that have been created between economics and political science and history and business and law really don’t exist and shouldn’t be there,” Reich said.

He went on to explain in the 19th, and 20th centuries there was no difference between politics and economics, and he encouraged students to learn how the disciplines are related to each other.

“You can’t understand the economy without understanding politics,” Reich said.

Reich said free market cannot exist without government or rules, so in terms of the debate between republicans and democrats, he believes the real issue is not between free market and government, but that the discussion should be what kind of market structure is ideal.

In both the Q&A and lecture, Reich spoke about the current unemployment rate and labor force participation rate.

“People say the game is rigged against them,” Reich said. “And if you compare their pay today and their pay in 1972, they are getting paid less today than they were in 1972, adjusted for inflation.”

One of Reich’s main points was his desire to get big money out of politics and stopping crony capitalism. Reich found that during a meeting with a Dave Brat, an obscure professor backed by the tea party who made history by defeating a House Majority Leader, Eric Cantor in 2014, he disagreed with him on nearly everything, except the core issues of getting rid of big money in politics and stopping corporate welfare.

Reich also emphasized the importance of globalization and technological innovations and their effects on international economies, adding that Americans are painted a misleading picture.

“Globalization needs to be embraced,” he said. “It is not a zero sum game.”

He ended the lecture on a high note by saying he is optimistic because the current generation of students is more socially conscious, idealistic, and committed to making a fundamental change than any other he has encountered.

Reporter Callie Miller can be reached at 270-745-6011 and [email protected].