Sunday, May 27, 2007


Book Review Of "The Disposable American"

The New York Review of Books has published an excellent article about three books that shed grave doubts on the benefits of unbridled "managers' capitalism." These books include The Disposable American: Layoffs And Their Consequences, by Louis Uchitelle, The Great American Job Scam, by Greg LeRoy, and The Battle For The Soul Of Capitalism, by John C. Bogle. These books chart the development of the modern "'rootless corporation,' which defines success by financial measures alone, making it possible to 'save' a company by destroying much of what it was."

We learn that Louis Uchitelle's earlier book on the subject, The Downsizing Of America, a compilation of New York Times articles published in 1996 during the dot-com boom, was derided even by Uchitelle's fellow business reporters for its "downbeat" focus on the supposed past. The collapse of the dot-com boom and the arrival of another, even more withering round of layoffs makes his subject even more relevant than ever. Downsizing is now a standard operating procedure undertaken for short-term gains rather than as a last resort, and its popularity heralds a permanent change. Moreover, "the modern layoff is a hidden layoff", often disguised as early retirement or the switching of vendors from one "contractor" (i.e., temporary laborer) to another who costs less. Jack Welch was a major innovator in the brave new world of the "flexible workforce", a concept which has boosted corporate profits enormously but done almost nothing for ordinary Americans. According to Uchitelle, "Permanent disequilibrium... would be a more accurate picture of where we're headed."

Retraining programs, as such, provide little practical preparation for getting a new job - much less starting a new career. Many of these programs are intended simply to "defuse anger and lower expectations" and give the victims of layoffs propagandistic nonsense instead of practical advice. "What they receive, mostly, is airy wisdom about attitude, interpersonal relations, and the inner self; at least one classful gets free copies of the global best seller Who Moved My Cheese?, which warns those in economic distress not to be led into indignation or dismay by the overly complex human brain. Far better, the book suggests, to adopt the existential pragmatism of mice: No cheese in that corner? Check out this corner."

Corporate reliance on propaganda extends far beyond its human resources departments. Advertising fosters a pervasive culture of consumerism, and business-friendly academics and journalists extol the virtues of the "free market" economy - which, as the authors note, is simply "a euphemism for letting the private sector set its own rules." Lobbyists have always attempted to influence Congress on behalf of corporate interests, and continue to do so. But corporate agents also hoodwink state, county and local governments into giving their clients tax breaks ruinous to the local revenue base, often receiving in return a monolithic multinational presence that - as in the case of Wal-Mart - causes local businesses to fail or atrophy.

Read all this and more about these books and their message at the link below.

"The Spectre Haunting Your Office" from The New York Review Of Books

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