Top critical review
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Investing in people
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the traditional view that American economic progress being directly related to the profitability of American firms is no longer valid.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.