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I'll Be Short: Essentials for a Decent Working Society Hardcover – May 2, 2002
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Brandeis University professor and Clinton labor secretary Reich may be vertically challenged, but he's never been short on ideas. In this brief analysis of what's gone wrong in the U.S. for ordinary citizens, Reich offers a straightforward argument. Our astonishing economic growth after World War II, he maintains, grew out of a social contract: (a) anyone who wants a job should have one; (b) those who work should earn enough to lift themselves and their families out of poverty; and (c) all Americans should have access to an education. This social contract has collapsed over decades of social Darwinism; it needs to be restored. Reich examines the roles of business (it does have civic responsibilities), government (addressing the broadening income--and wealth--gap between rich and poor is high on its list of responsibilities), and education (it's the heart of the problem). A true "family values" agenda, he urges, needs to address the problems of millions of families living from paycheck to paycheck, not thousands of families worried about "the death tax." Denial, escapism, and resignation, Reich maintains, are the main obstacles to rebuilding a decent working society. A punchy, pragmatic, articulate statement of the basic goals of progressive reform. Mary Carroll
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"A punchy, pragmatic, articulate statement of the basic goals of progressive reform." -- Booklist, May, 2002
...an unabashedly passionate call for America to quit making the poor poorer as the rich get richer -- New York Times Book Review, August 4, 2002
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... I also like what you wrote on page 115: "But to become a highly productive society, we have to change our thinking about the role of government. We've become so accustomed to thinking about education, health care, child care, and public transportation as government SPENDING that we don't see the obvious: In the new global economy where financial capital is footloose, these are critical public INVESTMENTS. They mark the only path to a sustained and shared prosperity. Failure to make them - and make them wisely - condemns a society to a steadily declining standard of living. The same is true for regulations protecting worker safety, guarding the environment, and preventing discrimination. These, too, are investments in our future."
... As the former owner of a natural food store, a member of a dozen environmental groups, and a sociology major who focused on conflict theory and social stratification, I KNOW that YOU know what you are talking about - and I agree with all of it. ... Good Luck in your run for Governor! - The Aeolian Kid
Too bad this nation stands little chance of electing a short Jewish president, because in Reich we find the vision and idealism sadly lacking from politics of the last generation. Our universally tall soundbite presidents have removed IDEAS and IDEALS from the public forum, replacing them with deceptive smirks, homey aphorisms and big hairdos. When Thomas Paine envisioned a country self-governed by the common men, I'll bet he never imagined the Barnum & Bailey cynicism of appealing to Joe Sixpack with one hand while simultaneously selling him out to corporate greed with the other.
"I'll Be Short" loses a couple stars for being intentionally vague about how to pay for rebuilding America, although this does not diminish the power of the message.
The problem is that happy and healthy, or unhappy and not so healthy, foreign workers are still cheaper, and that is where the jobs have gone and are going. No argument from morality is going to stop that. His argument, sliced a little finer, is that American companies need to make American workers happier and healthier at home so that don't have to out source; that is, make them happier than their cheaper cousins in Bangladesh and they will produce more goods and services (albeit at a living wage) and everybody in America will profit both economically and morally.
If only. I think Reich is right that making workers happier and healthier will make them more productive. But I don't think that will solve the problem of jobs going overseas. US companies will simply use the same happier, healthier techniques (at a cheaper cost) overseas and they'll still send the jobs away.
Reich's argument that spending more money on education and job training, on the other hand, is the right way to go. If America's work force is the best educated and most skilled it will out-compete foreign labor for the work and the work will stay right here. Indeed foreign companies will move their plants to the United States to get the best employees.
Reich's indictment of the Bush administration for its "semireligious faith" in "trickle-down" economics is based on the observation that "corporations and rich individuals," blessed with even more riches, will simply invest the money overseas because "investment dollars" in today's economy "travel the world in search of the highest return." (p. 116) I believe Reich is right about this and that the Bush administration is living in the fantasy land of a long-dead Keynesian past. At any rate, we'll see in a few years.
All and all this is a good book of its kind except I wish that Reich had not brought his wife's failure to get tenure at an unnamed university into the mix. He points to that day as the day he became a feminist. I don't think arguments about gender politics help his economic agenda. The fact that he called up one of those who voted against his wife and called him an SOB may understandably make Reich feel better, but I wonder how I would feel if I had lost a tenure vote and my wife called up one of the voters and called her a name.
Reich's rationale for injecting gender into the discussion is in answer to the constant harping by social conservatives on what they call "family values." Reich makes the point that it's fine to talk about vague "family values" when you are financially secure and have someone at home to take care of the kids. It's a different story when the sole support (the mother) has to work and commute to work fifty or sixty hours a week and can't afford a nanny or day care. Family values must be centered on home economics is Reich's argument (p. 106), and it is a good one. Also good is Reich's answer to the "blame-mongers" who peddle "simplistic explanations" for the decline of "family values": "They demonize people on welfare while doing nothing to end corporate welfare." (p. 101)
A question worth asking (and one I wish Reich had devoted some serious ink to) is, If no solution is found to the growing chasm between the haves and the have nots in this country, what will be the social consequences? Will we see terrorism adopted by the poor people in our cities and on our rust belt factories and farms as a means of acting out their frustrations? Or will they be docile sheep? As the entire world becomes more and more polarized between the first and third worlds, will terrorism become an instrument of the deprived as it is now of religious fundamentalists?
Perhaps a powerful argument for sharing the wealth (Reich calls it "redistributing capital" rather than the old-fashioned redistribution of wealth--but it amounts to the same thing) can be found in these dire thoughts. I don't believe that poverty is the root cause of terrorism in the world today. Osama Bin Laden is not a poor man. But it may become a cause in the future if the present tend continues.
His points about the evolution of our work force are food for thought and one hopes that the current leadership in Washington is listening to Reich but I doubt it. Mr. Reich is actually a thinker and not a rabid partisan politician which makes him a refreshing breath of fresh air at a time when tv is full of bombast with everyone talking and no one listening. Chris Matthews did you hear me?
Read any book by Robert Reich and you'll learn something. It's like visiting with a favorite teacher or professor that you admire and respect. The hours fly by and you're just in awe of the person and what they have to say. Robert Reich is a true gentleman and a wise man as well.