Columbia University Professor Jeffrey Sachs sat down with Lawrence O'Donnell to discuss the coordinated efforts by Republican governors to help billionaires like the Koch brothers deal a final blow to unions and the working class in America. I guess if we can thank Scott Walker for anything, it's reigniting the labor movement in America and for being the reason we're seeing conversations like this one take place on television. They're long past due.
O’DONNELL: You hear in that phone call the governor saying, I’m talking to John Kasich every day. This is what we’ve been suggesting here, that it feels to us like this is a national Republican governors movement. This is not just one state trying to get control of its budget. It seems that phone call shows us that this is, the hope is that this governor will be able to spread something nationwide.
SACHS: Well this is absolutely coordinated. There’s no doubt about it and it’s not an accident that one Republican governor after another is trying to crush the unions and crush workers in general. And what’s astounding is we have the greatest inequality in income and wealth in the history of this country and you have the billionaires going out to absolutely do the final deed of crushing workers to the maximum extent. It’s amazing what’s going on.
O’DONNELL: George Will’s column has what I thought was the smoking gun on this even before the phone call where he praised, of course George Will loves what the governor’s doing and the governor says to him that he’s hoping that if his bill succeeds, that eventually union members will look at their unions and say “Why do we need this”?
SACHS: The reason they need it is that the wages have been going down while the income at the top has been soaring. And what these billionaires have been doing is buying up the whole Congress, now buying up the governors to make sure they never have to pay taxes again. And then we have these huge budget deficits because they don’t pay taxes any more. And what do they want to do? Cut the benefits for the poor, cut the education, stipends, cut the wages of the teachers.
This is, it’s unbelievable, the game that’s going on in this country. A little bit of it was exposed today, but this is absolutely vile, given what’s been happening in the last twenty years. We’ve got workers going down, we’ve got billionaires soaring and they’re doing everything they can to put in that final twist.
O’DONNELL: And why would the Kochs care about a little union question in a state like Wisconsin?
SACHS: Well what they’re doing, they have business in Wisconsin. They have polluting industries all over this country. They have bought up all the Congress on the Energy Committees in the House and the Senate on the Republican side to make sure we never do anything about the coal industry, about oil, about our dependence on imported oil, on climate.
They have bought everything they can in politics. They’re making sure they never have to pay a tax, they never have to do any environmental control.
O’DONNELL: Would Ronald Reagan look at what’s happening today and say “Yes!” Governor Walker is the inheritor of my spirit? This is the lesson I was trying to teach by firing air traffic controllers?
SACHS: He might. It is true that Reagan got a lot of this started, of this unbelievable surge of income wealth and inequality. We’ve never lived like we do right now with the middle class disappearing in this country and the rich in a contagion of greed trying to crush the bottom and I think Reagan did get that started. People revere him to this day in this country, but the fact of the matter is that when you look at how the middle class started this decline in America, it was in the 1980’s when the tax cuts on the top were given, the budget deficits opened up, they started to squeeze education, social spending. They were breaking this country in two. That’s what’s happening.
O’DONNELL: Now in a lot of the discussion that I’ve listened to over the last year about public education in this country, there seems to be a rather relentless, conscious and sometimes subconscious attack on teachers’ unions. Teachers are the problems. The scores aren’t going up because of the teachers. It seems like they’ve isolated the teachers as the reason why the schools are the way they are. It seems to me that we’ve got some kind of political spillover from that dialog into the anti-union talk that we hear now.
SACHS: Well that dialog itself is a gimmick. It’s trying to find a cheap way to take a social crisis that we have in this country and find someone to blame. You have poor kids that can’t make it right now and so blame the teachers, not blame the poverty, not blame the neighborhoods, not blame the inability of mothers to provide a decent day care for their children, that their children get decent preschool.
So this is part of the same story actually which is we’re crushing the middle class in the country and then the rich who want to pay no taxes are doing everything they can to blame the poor and it’s out of control. It’s spiraling out of control. And where is President Obama right now frankly when we need him to be defending the basic values of this country? We need to hear his voice.