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Heller hosts anniversary gala and honors Robert Reich

Published: September 19, 2014
Section: News

Former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich received the first Heller Dean’s Medal at this past weekend’s Heller School of Social Policy and Management 55th Anniversary Gala.

The medal is awarded to those who embody the Heller School’s motto, “Knowledge Advancing Social Justice.” The Heller School’s 55th anniversary weekend included workshops and panels for the schools alumni and faculty. The weekend opened with a keynote address by Dr. Sabrina Alkire, director of the Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative and included tributes to the school’s retiring faculty.

Workshops at the conference focused on topics like climate change, wealth equity and health care for people with disabilities. An alumni panel featured Thomas Glynn, CEO of the Massachusetts Port Authority, and a deans panel moderated by Executive Director of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum Michael Doonan accompanied lunch.

At the Gala Dinner, titled “The Inequality Express,” Robert Reich delivered the keynote address. He focused on economic challenges and inequalities facing the country. Reich is an accomplished economist who served under Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, and as the secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. Reich also narrated the award-winning 2013 documentary “Inequality for All.” He is currently the Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Reich spoke about three economic issues combining to create a “perfect storm.” These economic issues are, according to Reich, concentration of wealth, unlimited monetary contributions to politics and financial secrecy. Reich said that the issues are “all happening simultaneously, they are interacting in ways that are making the challenge cumulatively so much larger. We will inevitably overcome these challenges … but I think that the first requisite in terms of overcoming them is to understand very clearly what they are.”

Central to his talk were issues of economic inequality facing the United States. “The degree of inequality, both in income and in wealth, we are now seeing we’ve not seen in this country by some measures since the Gilded Age,” said Reich in his speech. “I’m not a class warrior, I’m a class worrier.”

“Where did all the money go?” Reich asked.

Reich spoke about his experience as Secretary of Labor under Clinton. During his time as Secretary, he worked to raise the minimum wage. He explained his motivations for doing this: “The arguments for raising the minimum wage are very similar to what they were. Those who are worried about pricing individuals out of the labor market are not paying attention to the demand side of the equation,” he said. Reich discussed the benefits of having a raised minimum wage and of having a growing and stable middle class.

Reich discussed the problems created when private entities fund politics. “If you have all this money, and concentrated money, affecting politics and undermining our democracy, but now you have more and more of that money affecting politics secretly, you don’t know even the sources of the money,” he said in his speech. Reich, describing this relatively new financial power held by private parties and its consequences, cited “the despicable 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission” and compared it to Dred Scott’s famous court ruling.

The weekend provided an opportunity for alumni and faculty to reconnect, attend workshops and talks relevant to their fields of work and raise money for students to attend the Heller School in the future.