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I'll Be Short: Essentials for a Decent Working Society Paperback – May 15, 2003
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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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Reich is a big thinker and a great writer. --Nancy Folbre, The Washington Post
"Reich has a talent for mastering economic and social complexities and making them easy for the layperson to grasp." --Daniel Akst, The Wall Street Journal
"Reich writes in ways unusual for an economist; he is self-effacing, witty and more interested in exploring the world's complexities than in uncovering unvarying laws." --Alan Wolfe, The New York Times Book Review
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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.
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.
One of Reich's ideas that caught my attention was his proposal to extend traditional public schooling from grades K through 12 to K through 14. The 'accountability in education' movement often focuses on preparing students for four-year college degrees, despite the fact that most Americans do not attend or graduate from four-year college programs. In a discussion of the push by many universities to lavish resources on "star" students, Reich suggests that state funding should be shifted to community colleges and vocational programs.
Reich ends his book by addressing the reader with a challenge to personally provide political leadership and involvement despite the political denial, escapism, and resignation that is much too common today in our society.
This is a timely and brief book. You can read it in a day or two. Rather than put it on your bookshelf, give it to a friend and ask your friend to pass it on. (Even better buy a couple of copies and pass them along.) I plan to give a copy to a progressive candidate for the California legislature. Maybe some of Reich's ideas will "bubble-up" to the California legislature in the not-too-distant future.