Wall Street and Corporate America Don't Seem to Have Learned a Thing From the Past Year

    Gary Cohn has been called a moderate by some in the media, but he and others in the Trump White House are pushing the views of Wall Street and big business. (Mark Lennihan / AP)

By Robert Reich /

With Steve Bannon on the way out, official Washington is jumping for joy that
Gary Cohn – the former president of Goldman Sachs who’s now running
Trump’s National Economic Council, along with Dina Powell, another influential
Goldman Sachs alumnus – seems to be taking over Trump’s brain.

As CNBC puts it, Cohn will push “more moderate, business-friendly economic policies.” The Washington Post says Cohn is advocating “a centrist vision.” The
goes on to describe “The growing strength of Cohn and like-minded
moderates” as revealed in Trump’s endorsement of government subsidies
for exports, and of corporate tax cuts. Says the Post: “The president’s
new positions move him much closer to the views of … mainstream
Republicans and Democrats

In reality, Cohn, Powell, and other Wall Streeters in the Trump White
House are pushing Trump closer to the views of Wall Street and big business – views that are reflected in the views of
“mainstream” Republicans and Democrats only to the extent the “mainstream” is dependent on the Street and
big corporations for campaign money.

These views aren’t “centrist,” and they’re not sustainable. More tax breaks for the rich
and more subsidies for big corporations aren’t much better for America than xenophobia.

Wall Street and corporate America seem not to have learned a thing from what’s happened over the past year. Do they really believe the anger, rage, hate, racism, and nationalism that welled up during the 2016 election was a random, passing phenomenon, like a particularly bad hurricane?

If so, they’re wrong. These sentiments came from a shrinking and ever more anxious working class. From millions of people so convinced the game is rigged against
them they were prepared to overthrow the established order in order to get fundamental change. From voters whipped up into a fury over tax breaks and subsidies and
bailouts for those at the top – socialism for the rich – but who for years have been getting the harsh losing end of the capitalist stick: declining wages, mass firings,
less job security, emptying towns and cities, and their children with even lower and fewer prospects.  

They came from people who during the Great Recession
lost their jobs, homes, and savings, as Wall Street got bailed out for its wanton greed, and not a
single top Wall Street executive went to jail.

The so-called “centrist” policies that Wall
Street and big corporations are now happily promoting via Gary Cohn and Dina Powell won’t reverse these sentiments. They’ll add to them, because these were same sort of the policies that got us to this point.  

There’s a better alternative. It’s to make it easy for people who lose their jobs to get new ones that pay at least as well, through wage insurance;  expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and raise the minimum wage so every job pays a living wage; invest in great teachers and great schools, along with a system of lifelong learning, and high-quality early childhood education; and provide Medicare for all.

And pay for all of this with a 2 percent tax on wealth over $1 million and a carbon tax. While we’re at it, get big money out of politics.

Here’s a  “centrist” agenda that big business, Wall Street, and the rest of America should agree on because it (or something very much like it) is the only way to move forward without inviting even more inequalities of income, wealth, and political power – and ever more vicious backlashes against such inequities.

If Wall Street and big business used the 2016 election as a teachable moment, they would realize this.

Robert Reich
Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the…
Robert Reich

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