Former Secretary of Labor Reich (Locked in the Cabinet, not reviewed) considers the promise and problems of the new economy.
Large-scale changes in technology have ushered in, as Reich puts it, “The Age of the Terrific Deal.” With the flick of a mouse, consumers now have within their reach an almost infinite bazaar of goods and services from which to choose. But such capability has bred enormous competitive pressure. In response companies have become lean and mean. Gone are large corporations with their steady jobs and dependable benefits, replaced by small, flexible enterprises that can respond quickly to consumer whims and technological innovation. Those with unique skills prosper, those without such skills do not; their incomes lag, their benefits whither. The result is an employment atmosphere of extreme uncertainty. Whether winners or losers, we all work harder and more intensely: the losers to keep up, the winners to avoid being losers. What is sacrificed in this epidemic of hard work is time for anything else, be it family, friends, or the community. What’s more, US society is increasingly dividing into enclaves of “haves” and “have-nots.” The haves segregate themselves and their offspring into the best neighborhoods, schools, recreational facilities, health-care programs, while the have-nots fall ever further behind. Reich argues that while few of us would give up what this new economy offers us as consumers, we must create new and innovative ways of regulating the marketplace and creating opportunity for all if we are to have any hopes of balanced, fulfilling lives and a stable, more just society. Much of what Reich discusses is not new, but few writers are as skillful at synthesizing knowledge and making the complex clear.
A work that should inspire citizens and policy makers to reflect on where we are going and if we really want to go there.