MAZ JOBRANI, HOST:
And now the game where notable people mistake us for regular NPR and answer the phone. Economist Robert Reich served Presidents Ford and Carter before becoming secretary of labor under Bill Clinton. Since then, he's done something even more incredible. He's gained almost a million followers on Instagram, making him the Kim Kardashian of economic advisers. Suck it, Goolsbee.
Robert Reich, welcome to WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
ROBERT REICH: Well, pleasure to be here.
JOBRANI: So, Robert, let me - I got some questions for you. I'm always curious. So first of all, you were secretary of labor. OK. First of all, what does that job actually entail? What was your day-to-day like when you were secretary of labor?
REICH: Well, you know, any Cabinet member - I mean, all you're doing is having meetings. And you're on the telephone. And you're under a great deal of pressure. And people are running in your office, saying if you don't do this right away, the sky's going to fall. I mean, that's basically what you're doing. And when we have a recession, as we did when I was labor secretary - coming out of one - and, obviously, right now, that office and that particular department become very, very important.
MO ROCCA: I've always wanted to ask you this. When your children were born, did their mother turn to you and say, who's the secretary of labor now?
REICH: No, but there have been a lot of labor jokes.
REICH: And, you know, very, very often, when I was secretary of labor, you know, women who were in various stages of pregnancy would look at me. And there would be kind of a giggle. Oh, you're secretary of labor. Ha, ha, ha.
JOBRANI: Well, now, here you are now. You've got this YouTube channel. You've got this Instagram page. And you put out these great videos that explain these complicated issues in a very short, entertaining way. All right? So I was watching one. And you were talking - this is great. It's very timely because you're talking about the Biden picks for all of the Cabinet. But you explain who is more important. And one of the things you said was the closer your office is to the Oval Office, the more important you are. So the question to you is - how far away was your office when you were secretary of labor?
REICH: The other side of the world - I was near China, actually. No, a labor secretary is not in the inner, inner circle. I divided people into those who were in the loop, those who are not in the loop and those who had no idea where the loop was. And I was often in the third category.
MAEVE HIGGINS: Like, you knew there was a loop, but you just couldn't put your finger on it?
REICH: Well, I suppose that's a fourth category. You don't even know there's a loop. No, I was actually in the third category. I knew that there was one. I just didn't know where it was.
ROCCA: I'm wondering - as a secretary of labor, you analyzed a lot of the different kinds of job and how the labor force changed. Like, tell us the truth. Do you get a little scared by those robot videos?
ADAM BURKE: (Laughter).
REICH: I do. I think that it's not only the robot videos. But you just have to ask yourself - when robots do more and more and more, you know, you get kind of a new invention. I'm waiting for the day where you have kind of an iEverything (ph) - you know? - a little thing that is capable of literally doing everything you want and need and supplying all of your goods and services. Who is going to have enough money to buy it?
HIGGINS: I have a question. Most economists agree to eat the rich. But how would you personally eat them - souffle, flambe?
ROCCA: Hollandaise sauce?
REICH: I don't know. I think roasting would be ideal.
REICH: Roast the rich - that's going to be a new saying.
JOBRANI: You are now on YouTube, on Instagram. And people that follow you know what I'm talking about. It is - you make really difficult things very palatable. I've been telling everybody they've got to follow you 'cause you get it and you explain it well, right? And you're now a - you're a social media star. First of all, how does it feel to be a social - do you get recognized by, you know, TikTokers and stuff walking around the streets?
REICH: Well, now I have a mask on.
REICH: No, I don't know what a social media star is. I - look, I consider, to the extent that it works, an extension of what I do in the classroom. I mean, it's part of education.
JOBRANI: Can you...
ROCCA: Are you worried that Congress is going to break you up?
REICH: It's already tried. But I'm very short. I'm very short. I'm under 5 feet tall. You can't - you know, how much is left?
ROCCA: Robert, since you really do understand the dire situation we're in, there must be something totally dopey you either read or watch just to keep your mind - to give your mind a break once in a while. What's the dumbest thing you're reading or watching right now?
REICH: Well, I - you know, I watched an old film a couple of nights ago called "Notting Hill." Do you remember that film?
BILL KURTIS: Hugh Grant, was it?
REICH: Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant?
REICH: I mean, it is sappy. It is silly. It is really, really dumb, but what a great escape.
JOBRANI: When you tweet, do you feel good when you tweet? And do you take your time to get the tweet put together, or you just go crazy and have misspellings? 'Cause it seems like you're pretty precise.
REICH: Well - you know what? - I don't really pay a great deal of attention. I - it's basically - the criterion is, what gets me angry? Where is my bile at the moment? And I think that's what's happened to social media. And I think it's a bad thing. It's not a good thing. And that is there are just too many people who use it to vent.
JOBRANI: Do you block the trolls, or do you get into arguments with them?
REICH: No, I don't get into any arguments with any trolls. That would be the beginning of the end. I mean, then I'd need to watch "Notting Hill" every night.
JOBRANI: Well, Robert Reich, we've asked you here to play a game we call...
KURTIS: Secretary of Leisure.
JOBRANI: You were secretary of labor. But what do you know about leisure? We're going to ask you three questions about things famous people do to relax. Get two right, and you win our prize for one of our listeners. Bill, who is Robert Reich playing for?
KURTIS: Tom Bean of Seattle, Wash.
JOBRANI: All right. You ready? Here we go. First question - late in his life, Fred Astaire picked up a new way to relax. What was it - A, he would do regular errands, like grocery shopping and mowing his lawn backwards in high heels; B, he started skateboarding in his driveway and fell in love with it; C, he started tagging, spray painting local monuments with the phrase Gene Kelly sucks?
REICH: (Laughter) Well, none of them sound terribly likely, but I'm going to go with A.
JOBRANI: So you think that he would run - do regular errands like grocery shopping and mowing his lawn backwards in high heels?
REICH: I'm afraid that would be my guess.
JOBRANI: He was skateboarding.
(SOUNDBITE OF SAD TROMBONE SOUND EFFECT)
JOBRANI: He became a lifetime member of the National Skateboarding Society.
REICH: Really? I'm amazed and appalled.
JOBRANI: All right. We'll go to the next question. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had a way he loved to relax, but he was really bad at it. It was which of these - A, he was an avid but very slow jogger and claimed to be the first man to break the four-hour mile; B, he loved bricklaying but once got a note from the bricklayers' union saying, (imitating British accent) you would not be sufficiently competent to carry on the work of a fully qualified bricklayer; or C, he adored scrapbooking, which his wife Clementine called crapbooking?
REICH: I would go for C. I mean, I could see him trying to do a bricklaying job. I can't see him jogging. But a scrapbook - yeah, that sounds consistent with my understanding of Winston Churchill.
JOBRANI: Well, he liked to lay bricks. Who knew?
(SOUNDBITE OF "PAC-MAN" DEATH SOUND EFFECT)
REICH: Oh, dear.
JOBRANI: All right. Professor Reich, you've got to get one of these right. All right? You got to get that...
REICH: I better - what's going to happen? I mean, I - Steve - what - didn't I hear that Steve Breyer...
REICH: ...Justice of Supreme Court got three of them wrong?
ROCCA: Exactly. The justice Stephen Breyer got all three wrong.
REICH: And he's still on the Supreme Court.
BURKE: There you go.
ROCCA: Well, for now.
KURTIS: That's true.
JOBRANI: All you need is one right, and you'll be better than Breyer. So that's all you're looking for here.
REICH: All right. OK.
JOBRANI: Last question - when he's not busting heads and driving fast cars, actor Vin Diesel relaxes by doing what - A, riding a tandem bicycle with Dame Judi Dench; B, playing Dungeons & Dragons with Dame Judi Dench; C, gently bench pressing Dame Judi Dench?
REICH: I like the alliteration of Dungeons & Dragons with Dame Judi Dench, so I think I'm going to try that one.
JOBRANI: Professor Reich, you are better than Stephen Breyer. D&D and Diesel. He's been an avid player for over 20 years, including a game with Dame Judi Dench - Dungeons & Dragons.
REICH: Oh, what a relief.
JOBRANI: Bill, how did Robert Reich do?
KURTIS: He pulled victory from defeat. Congratulations, Robert Reich. You did a great job.
(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE SOUND EFFECT)
JOBRANI: Robert Reich is an author, professor and the former secretary of labor. His new book, "The System: Who Rigged It And How We Fix It" (ph), is now available. Thank you, professor Reich.
REICH: Well, thank you, Maz. And thank you, everybody. That was fun.
ROCCA: You'll always be our designated survivor.
BURKE: See you.
HIGGINS: Thank you, bye. Thanks.
KURTIS: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RELAX")
FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD: (Singing) Relax. Don't do it when you want to go to it. Relax. Don't do it when you want come. Relax. Don't do it when you want to sock it to it. Relax. Don't do it...
JOBRANI: In just a minute, we order pizzas to our Listener Limerick Challenge. Call 1-888-WAIT-WAIT to join us on air. We'll be back in a minute with more of WAIT WAIT... DON'T TELL ME from NPR.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.