A quietly hopeful spin on an economic process that has proved tremendously dislocating for a generation and more of workers.

TEMP

HOW AMERICAN WORK, AMERICAN BUSINESS, AND THE AMERICAN DREAM BECAME TEMPORARY

A revealing study of the “gig economy,” which, though it seems new, has long antecedents.

Speaking in the middle of a major recession, an entrepreneur named Elmer Winter told an audience of business executives that the complacent world of lifetime employment and job security would soon come to a screeching halt, the victim of rising labor costs and the need to compete globally. Winter’s speech, Hyman (Economic History/Cornell Univ.; Borrow: The American Way of Debt, 2012, etc.) slyly notes, came not in 2018 but in 1958, at the beginning of an era in which corporations began to transform into cash conduits meant to funnel quarterly dividends into the hands of shareholders rather than building carefully with an eye to the long term. In that scenario, the old values of workforce stability and risk minimization gave way to a different way of doing business, one in which layers of temporary workers were as important in commerce as adjunct faculty would become in academia. A principal driver in the transformation was the electronics business, which, as it morphed into the high-tech world of Silicon Valley, needed to be able to hire on the spot, let people go when demand slacked, and otherwise be nimble enough to change product lines quickly. Hyman, who writes engagingly, observes that this is not necessarily good nor bad; it’s just as it is. However, he does foresee trends that may improve conditions for consultants, freelancers, and temporary workers: Disintermediating technology will allow workers to position themselves in the marketplace. “Right now we are too fixated on upskilling coal miners into data miners,” writes the author. “We should instead be showing people how to get work via platforms like Upwork and Etsy with their existing skills.” Provided, one assumes, that Etsy is recruiting coal miners….

A quietly hopeful spin on an economic process that has proved tremendously dislocating for a generation and more of workers.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2407-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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