I'LL BE SHORT: Essentials for a Decent Working Society

Robert B. Reich, Author
Robert B. Reich, Author . Beacon $20 (128p) ISBN 0-8070-4340-0
Reviewed on: 04/29/2002
Release date: 05/01/2002
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Despite the joking title, former secretary of labor Reich's analysis of what is wrong with America is serious. Reich decries "the hollowing out of the middle class and creation of a two-tiered society." His solution is to reinvigorate the social contract between workers, corporations and government, a contract, he argues, that has propelled America to greatness. This contract has three provisions, says Reich. The first requires that "as companies do better, their employees should too." The second is that working people be "paid enough to support themselves and their families." The last is that "everyone should have an opportunity fully to develop his or her talents and abilities through publicly supported education." In Reich's view, corporations should fulfill their civic duty by emphasizing community involvement and by providing workers with day care, medical benefits and expansive educational opportunities. Citing the historical precedent of the Homestead Act, he argues that government should provide universal savings accounts (in which the government deposits tax credits) to low-income families. He proposes equally creative solutions to bolster the educational opportunities offered underprivileged students and tackles, less creatively, the problem of sexism in the workplace. Reich's vision will resonate with liberals, although it will seem unworkably utopian to many and will conjure a chamber of horrors to free market economists. Less doctrinaire readers will find this short prescriptive work ambitious, aimed as it is at nothing less than turning American society down a different road, but it is also novel, constructive and worth considering. (May)

Forecast: Reich is getting media attention in Massachusetts as a candidate for governor, and no doubt D.C. will be eager to cover this book as well. (The Boston Globe ran a none-too-favorable advance story about it on April 9.) Sales should be strong in those locales.

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