Policy planner Reich (Kennedy School of Government) is the co-author of Minding America's Business, the book that clearly...



Policy planner Reich (Kennedy School of Government) is the co-author of Minding America's Business, the book that clearly spelled out--barely over a year ago--America's failure to maintain international competitiveness: the decline-in-relative-productivity, collapsing-industry syndrome. Reich has since become a key advisor to the so-called Atari Democrats (Tsongas, Mondale, Hart), or ""Reindustrializers,"" and this new work--a simple formulation of the economic problem, coupled with a sweeping social program to rectify it--has the aspect, in part, of a political platform. It also has some historical substance, however, and some hard truths. According to the simple formulation, America must shift from manufactures based on high-volume, standardized production to those based on ""flexible-system production"": ""precision-manufactured, custom-tailored, and technology-driven"" products. In these areas, supposedly, the advanced industrial nations can continue to maintain a competitive edge over the Singapores and Mexicos--on the basis of labor skills. Though Reich would not abandon autos, for instance, entirely (he speaks of ""advanced automobile components"" and luxury cars), on the whole he bows to industrial evolution, as Abernathy et al. (above) don't; he presumes that the rapidly developing nations can't make further, Japan-like giant strides; he proposes, for the vast, heterogeneous US, what suits other, very different countries (preeminently Japan). Back of this all-purpose prescription, however, is some close-hauled history--of business and government ""management"" as an American, machine-inspired creation: OK for overseeing repetitive tasks and accomplishing clear-cut ends, but a barrier to initiative and innovation. Also graphically laid out is what Reich aptly calls ""paper entrepreneurship"": the wheeling-and-dealing (including conglomeration) whereby creative execs jacked-up profits, increased insecurity, and decreased production. How can anything be accomplished, one does wonder, if ""one-third to one-half of all US managerial and office workers leave their jobs each year""? How could anything but ""alienation and indifference,"" if not ""outright dishonesty,"" result? So one reaches Reich's conclusions with mixed feelings: skepticism about the efficacy of a simple switchover, conviction that change is imperative. And here, again, he makes worthwhile observations and offers questionable suggestions. Other countries do indeed gear their economic policy more toward improving the general lot, less toward ""fine-tuning"" the economy; they do gear their social policy more toward the common welfare, less toward helping-out the poor. (So social programs aren't cut, for instance, in hard times.) But when Reich proposes that we merge our social and economic policies by having the workplace become ""the center of social services,"" rather than the geographic community, he not only goes against the American grain, he goes beyond the European norm (approaching a modus vivendi that's more Chinese even than Japanese). The current debate over means-and-ends, however, will be enhanced by Reich's proficient, smoothly readable, reasonable-sounding presentation.

Pub Date: May 18, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Times Books

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983