The Common Good | Robert B. Reich

Summary of: The Common Good
By: Robert B. Reich


Welcome to the engrossing world of ‘The Common Good’ by Robert B. Reich, where you will explore the societal values, ideals and norms that connect people and shape a community. This book summary will guide you through the changing landscape of America’s dedication to the common good, revealing its roots in the Bible and the Enlightenment. Discover the impact of the ‘whatever-it-takes-to-win’ mentality on contemporary society and the significance of virtuous leaders, honor and shame, and truth-seeking in restoring the common good. As you dive deeper, you’ll also uncover the challenges and potential solutions to reclaiming a shared sense of morality and community.

Understanding the Common Good

The common good is a set of social values and ideals shared by a society, including freedom, fairness, equality, and respect for others. It stems from both the Bible and the Enlightenment. Without this notion, there would be no fairness or justice, leaving individuals to fend for themselves in a chaotic society. However, there are those who challenge the idea of the common good, which will be explored in the next part.

Do we need the common good?

Advocates for and against the concept of the common good explain their stances, highlighting the potential consequences of exploitation.

The US Constitution emphasizes the importance of promoting the general welfare, which is reflected in the modern-day infrastructural developments like schools, highways, and the healthcare system. However, some philosophers and writers, like Ayn Rand and Robert Nozick, reject the belief in the existence of a common good. They believe that the government’s order or the individual’s obligation to pay taxes for the welfare of everyone else can result in tyranny and is an infringement on an individual’s self-interest. Instead, they advocate for a society that is structured based on self-interest, and the common good must be fought against or subverted. Another perspective is provided by the small town example, where everyone trusts each other, and there is an unspoken rule that no one would steal from their neighbor until a thief arrives and exploits this trust, and people start locking their doors. This example reflects that exploitation can break the common good, and many implied rules within a modern society can be exploited. The more exploitation that occurs, the less trust people have in the common good.

The Lost Value of Common Good

The concept of common good has been lost over the decades, as portrayed by the US society. The former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, Martin Shkreli, who raised the price of a life-saving medication by over 5,000%, is an epitome of this shift. Shkreli ignored the common good, focusing on maximizing his company’s profits for his own personal gain. Unfortunately, there are many more people who have forgotten about the common good, such as politicians who pass laws for wealthy donors, doctors who prescribe unnecessary medication for financial gain, and directors who ignore charges of sexual harassment. These few examples make it evident that the common good has become an outdated societal value in America.

The Erosion of America’s Common Good

The common good in America has shifted from a wide-reaching goal to a short-term “whatever-it-takes-to-win” approach in both politics and businesses. Nixon’s Watergate scandal set a precedent for exploiting power which subsequent administrations followed. Corporate raiders set up corporation takeovers, instating CEOs devoted to maximizing short-term value at any cost. The goal of maximizing profits resulted in a loss for the common good – wages were reduced, employees were let go, jobs were automated, and factories were closed. Jack Welch, the CEO of General Electric, epitomized this new business model, cutting many American jobs. The “whatever-it-takes” mentality significantly changed the way society operated.

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