Economists Bluestone (Boston College) and Harrison (MIT) have inflated a study of plant closings, their consequences and...



Economists Bluestone (Boston College) and Harrison (MIT) have inflated a study of plant closings, their consequences and especially their causes, into a considerable muddle--with, nonetheless, seine distinct if diverse merits. On the consequences of plant closings--loss of jobs and homes, psychological stress, curtailed community services, a less-and-less employable population--the text is a catchall of examples and studies. Since the information can't be correlated, no statistical or other conclusions emerge; but the assemblage in itself has seine value. (It would have more if the authors were capable of clear, succinct exposition and clear, logical organization.) Next, a composite picture of boomtown maladies is presented to remind us that rampant growth, too, exacts social costs--and to further discredit those who would blithely let ""sunset"" industries fold and Frost-belt communities die. There then follows the book's main argument: that many plant closings were brought on, not by internal weaknesses or external competition, but by the corporate propensity for ""foreign investment, diversification, and merger."" During the 1945-71 period, technological advances (jet travel, computerization) enabled managers ""to shift capital (and products) across long distances, and to operate far-reaching networks of production facilities""; concurrently, conglomerate mergers ""meant that relatively fewer companies came to control relatively more assets, jobs, and decisions about economic life."" When the foreign competition caught up and the domestic economy stopped growing in the '70s, conglomerate business managers acquired capital for expansion by buying up profitable businesses, milking them, and then abandoning them. . . because they didn't yield a designated profit! Plant-by-plant, there is seine truth to this, and to other charges of destructive mismanagement; industry-by-industry (an aspect the authors ignore), it is far from the whole truth. Bluestone and Harrison are also concerned with another type of plant closing, or plant dispersal--in flight from union labor. Here, they provide a rogues gallery of management stratagems: ""parallel production' in scattered plants, and ""multiple sourcing"" of component parts, to destroy the strike weapon; tax- and tariff-free production across the Mexican border, and in other free-trade zones; worldwide production of standardized parts--in lieu of large, centrally-located, ""politically-vulnerable"" facilities. The disastrous implications for the ""social wage"" are those also noted by Piven and Cloward in The New Class War (p. 401). In the lest of their four major sections, Bluestone and Harrison cite the shortcomings, in terms of the public interest, of various industrial development strategies: traditional conservative and liberal approaches; the Rohatyn and Thurow ""corporatist"" proposals; the Japanese model; ""urban enterprise"" zones. They have no all-purpose substitute, but would start with control of plant closings. For a balanced and lucid review of America's industrial decline, see Minding America's Business (1981), by Ira Magaziner and Robert Reich; for a sense of wrongs-and-rights, look also to Bluestone and Harrison.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 1982


Page Count: -

Publisher: Basic Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982