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The Vanishing American Corporation: Navigating the Hazards of a New Economy Hardcover – May 2, 2016
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“Jerry Davis offers a gut-wrenching, mind-blowing picture of the Uberized society we are more or less blindly constructing. It raises radical questions for how we should collectively organize and individually navigate this brave new world, forces us to look afresh at how market and government should be allowed to interact, and puts our existing economic and political philosophies to the test.”
—Philip Pettit, L. S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and Human Values, Princeton University, and Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy, Australian National University
“This is a brilliant book that describes the evolution of America’s economic ecosystem and the implications of the ‘task-based’ economy for employees and society more generally.”
—Jeffrey Pfeffer, Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior, Graduate School of Business, Stanford University
“Davis challenges the future of the corporation and of traditional jobs in a world of digital disruption and decentralization. The implications are significant, but so are the opportunities. Davis offers us a way to understand the significance of the change and to lead through it. Great insights and inspiration.”
—Jim Hagemann Snabe, former Co-CEO, board member, and Chairman, SAP
“Fast-paced, brilliantly written, and deeply informed. The best overview yet of the rise and fall of the giant corporation, the new technologies, and the opportunities and dangers—personal as well as political—we now confront.”
—Gar Alperovitz, author of What Then Must We Do? and Co-Chair, The Next System Project
“This book is a comprehensive commentary on the history of public corporations in America. It provides an excellent insight on the rising fortunes of these corporations and dwells on their imminent fall. Elegantly paced, it gives glimpses of the social and economic impact of corporations on nations and makes for very good reading.”
—S.D. Shibulal, cofounder and former CEO, Infosys
“Job One for the modern business academic is to provide actionable advice to help businesses create meaningful jobs and contribute to broad economic prosperity. Jerry Davis shows himself again to be a tower of strength in this quest with his brilliant new book. It is a must-read for anyone who cares about the future of democratic capitalism.”
—Roger Martin, Institute Director, Martin Prosperity Institute, and former Dean, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto
Contrary to popular opinion, the American public corporation is on the decline. Leading scholar Gerald Davis explains the social and economic pressures behind the rise and fall of the American corporation, the surprising negative consequences, and what the post-corporate future may hold.
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Myron M. Miller
“The Vanishing American Corporation”
First, this is a book that should be read, and re-read, by all those currently involved in business, NGOs and government. Perhaps even more importantly, it should be read by all university faculty and the students of today and tomorrow. Dr. Davis’s description of what formed the corporations of America, and the dramatic forces that have changed them, provides an ideal background to the conceptions of all of us have about where our economy and jobs are headed in the future.
On a personal note, I have lived through many of the changes. When I graduated from college with an M.S. in the 1950’s, I joined Westinghouse Electric Corporation, along with 600 newly minted college graduates. We were gathered into a corporate “student training program.” One can only imagine that world, as we reflect on that era. All of us were trained to be corporate people, specializing in some corporate function. When we graduated, we all had a choice to join any of a number of corporations, for the good entry jobs were aplenty. That was the era that Dr. Davis describes so well.
Alas, there came a “perfect storm” of disruptive changes in corporate America, and these are very well described in his outstanding book. The development of conglomerates, where it was assumed that good executives could manage anything. The hostile takeovers of what had been excellent companies. The outsourcing that hollowed out much of American business, to the benefit of American consumers because of the lower prices, but were devastating to millions of employees in certain industries (appliances and television, for example). And then finally, the huge impact of technology on every aspect of American industry. I was personally affected negatively by all these disruptions. Fortunately, I was able to reinvent myself each time.
Dr. Davis’s description has “mapped” today’s business scene, to the benefit of all who are coping with the disruptions, and for those who will face them for years to come. Understanding the elements of this map is essential for those educating and providing for the jobs of the future. He ends with some advice regarding what a college student might do to best prepare for what will be an equally disrupted future. His advice is to earn a degree in the liberal arts, plus a good dose of the kinds of technology/computer skills, and that is a good start.
His last chapter raises the issue in a way that should be addressed – and debated - widely in the academic community, particularly those in schools of business. Beyond his conjecture regarding the preparation of college students, there remains the enormous challenge of what is to be done with those who don’t attend college, whether by choice in inability to qualify. I think this challenge might be part of Dr. Davis’s continuing study and writing – to the benefit of all of us.
Directed not only at academics and business professionals, but easily digested by someone like myself who doesn’t normally read this type of book.
A few criticisms after reading the book would be that The Vanishing American Corporation has a tendency to be repetitive, and some points are repeated without clear explanations; they could be explained in a more concise format. The title is a bit misleading, as the ultimate point is not really about corporations per se; rather, the book provides advice to (young) people on how to succeed in a changing economy. Davis does not go into enough depth on how to achieve the preferred economic outcome (renewal of communities as economic centers) - in fact, he does not really do a great job of explaining what he means by the idea of community empowerment. He shows the path to avoid (everything reduced to transactions – “Uberization”), but does not clearly define the way to achieve a more egalitarian society. In the book’s conclusion, Davis suggests new people entering the corporate workforce have a liberal arts degree or background. The point of this is to offer flexibility in the face of certain uncertainty. However, Davis’ point of being flexible demonstrates that there is no one correct approach.
There are far more positives about The Vanishing American Corporation than the few negatives that were noticed. Davis shares many interesting perspectives. He has a compelling point on the role of corporations in reducing social inequality. Davis does a decent job of avoiding moral judgments, making this book palatable to nearly any interested reader, regardless of their political, economic, or social views. Davis shares handy examples of how much American corporations, as a whole, have changed from the early 1900s to modern day – and modern corporations appear to not make as much sense as earlier ones. The political climate has changed, and Davis does a good job of explaining the political factors that have varied in America over the past century, influencing how the American corporation does business (i.e. JP Morgan creating US Steel in the early 1900s due to a centralized banking role, and then having investment decentralized by the same federal government who rolled back regulations during the Reagan administration.) In the past, there used to be a clear path for people to follow that would lead to their success. In the post-World War Two economy, General Motors came to agreement with the United Auto Workers to supply them with such benefits as health insurance and a retirement pension. Today, such benefits are much more limited as corporate jobs have scaled down immensely with the “Nikefication” of companies demonstrating it is more profitable to own ideas and brands and contract away the infrastructure of manufacturing and labor, often overseas. Davis also shows how corporations’ taking care of customers has changed, and how corporations take less and less care of their employees.
Overall, The Vanishing American Corporation is a good read, albeit somewhat repetitive. The contents of this book will be not groundbreaking or surprising to those currently involved in business or corporate culture, but does provide a clear background as to how and why corporations have changed in scale over the past century and its effects on the workforce. This book is recommended to anyone interested in joining the corporate workforce, particularly those who have not yet chosen their education path in college.