Customer Reviews: The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism
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on December 30, 1999
Many of us outside of the manufacturing sector have not yet seen the changes that the global economy has in store for us.
In his economic model, Reich points out the "vestigial thought" of the American corporation -- which today consider themselves "global" with no ties to its home country. His point is that America as a nation should welcome foreign investment if it will provide jobs to Americans. The global economy, as he models, is comprised on global webs, with knowledge workers with ideas in the center, surrounded by support services that add global economic value and bring concepts and products to fruition.
He also segments labor in the global economy into three catagories. Symbolic Analysts (or knowledge workers) who have the greatest chances for success, in-person services which are not readily suceptable to downward wage pressures, and routine producers which have already seen jobs shipped overseas to totalitarian areas with low wages.
More important than his global economic model is the subtlties that lie deep within the text. At first glance these may be missed, but a careful study reaveals several important caveats.
First that the global economy will likely mean less social mobility to the majority, with an ever increasing inequality in the distribution of wealth: Hence, the end of the middle class. This means that in a global economy, there may not be enough jobs paying living wages to support our already declining standards of living.
Second, Reich points out the improbability of of everyone becoming sybolic analysts -- which is evidence on the growing population of people today who can not even perform basic skills. He refers to a study by William Julias Wilson, writen in "When Work Dissapears."
Third, that as the rich get richer and further segment themselves from others, there will less of a connection between them and the poor -- a defacto end to the trickle-down economic theory. They also will continue having their own schools, private services etc, (their own private government) furthering the rift. He points out that the government has to take a careful approach to these people so as not to make them leave the U.S., taking with them the economy that revolves around them.
Reich half-heartedly makes a few suggestions about investing in training, education, and healthcare as a means of giving all people an equal economic opportunity, but that also may be "vestigial thought."
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on March 25, 2001
Robert Reich is interested in labor. Not surprising. He's a former Secretary of Labor under Clinton's administration. He begins by telling us that corporations have lost their national identity. In other words, almost all American and foreign corporations consist of employees, investors, and machinery that are located all over the world, and so the traditional view that American economic progress being directly related to the profitability of American firms is no longer valid. So what then should be the economic goals of the state?
Three types of workers exist in Reich's thinking: routine producers, in-person servers, and symbolic analysts. Reich shows evidence that the symbolic analysts, who "solve, identify, and broker problems by manipulating symbols," are the winners in this age. The workers who are educated and can use their knowledge to supply a service will get the highest incomes. Those who have no knowledge to sell, who are engaged in routine jobs in factories or in-person servers such as waiters and cashiers will be left behind them.
So Reich proposes that education is of great importance, and devotes two chapters to "The Education of the Symbolic Analyst." It doesn't matter whether or not American firms, if definable, prosper. It is in the long term interests of the American people for the people to learn and be able to use that knowledge. If foreign firms come and employ Americans, good. The workers will still be Americans, and they will learn stuff in the process.
But not all Americans can be symbolic analysts, and perhaps not all symbolic analysts can be well off. Reich's main concern seems to be income inequality and the social attitudes of the symbolic analysts. He feels that we have lost a sense of national community as more and more symbolic analysts, who earn the most income, become less dependent upon the other workers who earn much less. If those who are fortunate do not feel obligated to those who are not, then what does that mean for America as a whole?
I don't feel that I gained much new information in reading this work. And though I read with interest, the economic arguments are not clearly stated (understandably, as this is written for the public). So, many claims were made and they make sense given the data and reasoning he provides, but it isn't a sturdy enough work for me to give more than three stars. Robert Reich takes a liberal view, but I disagree with other reviews that this book is drivel. One review comments on how the rich deserve to be rich for working hard and the poor, it is implied, are lazy and deserve to be somehow punished by low wages. Income disparity is a concern. Whether or not Reich's argument is sound and his data accurate, there is nothing wrong in sympathizing with the poor or thinking that government might serve some purpose in aiding them. There is much that is wrong in making general assumptions about the behavior of the poor and what they deserve. Another review says that Reich advocates strategic trade in which "we ought to use tariffs and subsidies to increase American firms' market shares in their fields." Reich does advocate subsidies to help the work force gain advanced skills, but he says, "it would draw no distinctions based on the nationalities of the firm's shareholders or top executives." Such subsidies would have little to do with "American firms," a notion he spends the first half of the book trying to erase.
Not great, not bad. Pick it up if you're interested in these topics.
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on September 30, 2005
The author of this book is a respected economist and also a former cabinet secretary in the Clinton administration. Published in the early 1990's, this book provides a short economic history of the US, describes the American economy at his time (the early 1990's) and what lies ahead for America. In it, Reich covers various topics such as: industrialization, outsourcing of labor, gap between incomes, the growth of financial markets in both the number of people involved, the sums of money involved, and the influence they have on world affairs, and the role of America in world economics.

He points out trends both harmful and beneficial to America, and prescribes changes that could help America, and the world. These include the traditional liberal stands of investing in education, securing healthcare and other social nets for the poor, protecting the environment, empowering workers, especially those at the bottom of the economic food chain, with greater power in their economic success,

The book is clearly written. Reich is clearly a Democrat, but the book is not partisan in its treatment, and he emphasizes the importance of government budgets and tax rates in economic policy. There were several items he should have placed more focus on; privatization of utilities, the growth of intellectual property and its effects on technological growth and individual rights, the spread of credit, and the parallel rise in bankruptcies. In all the book tends to look at the bright side, and offers many good points for political leaders current and future to consider.
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on November 3, 1997
The first half of "The Work of Nations" did a great job of explaining how the global economy really works. The second half of the book revealed Reich's ideas on how to improve the American labor force. I LOVED the first half but wasn't so thrilled with the second half. Free-traders (even the conservatives) will love the first half, and liberals will like the second half. I do understand that M.I.T. economist Paul Krugman takes issue with Reich in his book "Pop Internationalism," but even Krugman must like the first half of "The Work of Nations." The introduction alone makes this book a must read.
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on April 19, 1997
Probably one of the better books on the impending globalization of markets. It doesn't take the zero-sum look of Lester Thurow but is similarly written for the layman. Reich describes who will win in the market economy and provides plenty of material for Marxists, but he doesn't take a nationalistic view of globalization. People with little understanding of globalization should read this book as it tries to educate the common man about the problems with nationalistic trade regulations. Definitive reading for those who worry about NAFTA and the pending federalization of the EU
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on August 6, 2004
Although written way back in 1990-1, this book was prescient enough and insightful enough to still be relevant today. The trends Reich lays out -- toward globalization of capital, outsourcing of labor, the internationalizing of information through the internet and the growing Third World distrust of "American ideals" -- continue unabated in 2004 just as he said they would. He provides a clear analysis of why American hegemony in manufacturing evaporated in the '60s & '70s, and how this led inevitably in the '80s & '90s to the shrinkage of the middle class. He shows why the rich continue to get richer (through PACs) while the poor get poorer (through withdrawing from a system which continues to abandon them). Although the book is not overtly political, he exposes "Reaganomics," the trickle-down theory and their current euphemisms as self-aggrandizing pandering to political contributors. Contrary to some reactionary reviewers, Reich does NOT advocate a return to progressive income taxation (which created the biggest consumer boom in history), because he acknowledges it's too late for that.

Throughout, his text is very concise and direct, without an extraneous word.

He loses a star only for the last chapter, which is a utopian and not-very-convincing prescription for a way out of the morass. He no doubt felt a responsibility to provide some sort of solution after 300 pages of problems -- but his days with the Clinton administration immediately following the publication of this book may have disabused him of such easy answers.
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on March 12, 2001
The usefulness of this bok comes from its accurate and original analysis on the classes of jobs that exist today: Symbols analysis, in-person services, and routine laborers. Basically, any job can fit in this classification, except, for example, professional athletes (at least I am doubtful about where they would fit). As for the solutions to the growing gap between rich and poor, please note that this is a most complex problem or, better, set of problems. There is simply no clearcut recipe for abridging economic and social gaps, since each national situation is different. Some things we know that are indispensable, but not always enough: investment in infrastructure, public education, health, etc. We know that civic values are important and what investments are needed, but HOW to do it remains the core of serious political debate. Certainly, I don't think that for nations like the US, "strategic trade" might be a solution (it relays on the basic statist assumption: that a group of bureaucrats will know better than the market what to do with resources). Nevertheless, I did find the book interesting and thought-provoking, even if some of its proposals are somewhat outdated nowadays.
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on March 9, 2001
It seems that stating disinformation as fact has become a way of life in America. A previous reviewer stated something to the effect that Robert Reich was not an economist. That reviewer could have been spared embarassment by first checking facts.
Reich graduated from Dartmouth and followed that with a law degree from Yale. Finally, he went to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar and studied economics. In addition to being the Secretary of Labor he was a professor at Harvard and is now one at Brandeis.
As for the title the reviewer seems to dislike, Adam Smith's book was "Wealth of Nations." Modern economic theory accepts that work is the basis of wealth. Marx promoted that idea and Reich is using it in a word paly on the title of Adam Smith's work. What of it?
The book is mildly thought provoking and written for ease of reading. If work and labor are the basis of our economic wealth and health as a nation, hadn't we keep our eye on the education required to turn out the workers of tomorrow?
It's solid four but not a five.
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on November 19, 2000
Robert Reich has done a masterful job of analyzing the widening gap between the one-fifth of us who are riding the Web to unprecedented wealth; and the four-fifths of us who are falling farther and farther behind.
I found his central thesis entirely credible: that the "symbolic analysts" of the world are seceding from the rest of the population into enclaves of privilege. His confession, as a Democrat, that his party has sold out to the same interests which used to be the sole property of Republicans helps explain why None of the Above won another presidential election this year.
I can't fault Reich for not coming up with a brilliant solution to this trend--a renewed call to patriotism requires a great leader to issue the call, and he wasn't around on Election Day.
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on January 24, 2002
I was interested in reading this book to gain some sort of understanding on the liberal-fiscal ideas bouncing around the heads of some of my democratic friends. I have to say that some of the ideas in this book, ones covering the rise of internationalized corporate webs, was stimulating and provided good cause to re-evaluate my positions on supply-side policies. However, the proposed solutions (such as taxing the life out of people at rates as high as 83%) are unrealistic and hopelessly utopian. The ideas to grow government by the sizes required to carry out the proposed public policies for aiding the poor and increasing the number of symbolic-analytic people in our society boarders on severe socialism, even communism. Those that make money should not be forced into acts of humanitarianism by excessive taxation. Also, the author never considers that in the increasingly globalized world, what is to stop those making the money from fleeing the nation that built them because the cost to stay (taxes) are too high? His only argument is that the mobility of human capital is less than corporate assets, but if living somewhere else on the planet means saving you 80% of your salary, just how mobile might wealthy symbolic-analysts become?
In the end I was disappointed because The Work of Nations spent the majority of the book defining the problem and only the last 1/5 of it explaining a solution and in no good way dealing with the tough details and hurdles of implementing that solution.
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