Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Robert Reich's I'll Be Short 4: At What Price?

I finished Robert Reich's I'll Be Short: Essentials for a Decent Working Society.  Reich had a profound chapter on feminism, as he talked about his wife being denied tenure, how women are not always listened to in male-dominated sayings, ways that he believes that men and women approach issues differently, and the financial struggles of many women in America today.  I especially appreciated how Reich presented himself as growing in his sensitivity to women's issues.

What I'd like to highlight, however, is something that Reich says on page 114:

"Every city or town, every state, every region----indeed, every nation----really has two choices about how to attract global capital.  One choice is to become so inexpensive that global capital is lured by the low cost of doing business: Wages are rock bottom.  Workers get no health or retirement benefits.  Safety regulations don't exist or are barely enforced.  Companies are free to pollute.  Taxes are waived.  This low-cost strategy may indeed attract global capital and create a lot of jobs.  But they'll be lousy jobs.  Families will be condemned to a low standard of living.  The environment will be degraded.  And the entire economy will be precarious because there will always be somewhere else on the globe where the costs are even lower...The other choice is to lure global capital by becoming so productive that even though wages may be high, benefits generous, and regulations costly, capital is eager to come because workers are able to produce more and better products.  They can identify and solve new problems, create ever more efficient ways of doing things, and respond to customer needs more quickly and deftly."

In essence, I agree with Reich on this.  Granted, there may be more than these two options.  For example, there may be other ways to get a cleaner environment than costly and onerous regulations.  And yet, in my opinion, Reich is right that there is a push to dramatically limit wages and benefits for a number of workers because of a belief that doing so would make businesses more competitive.  Yes, it could make them more competitive, but at what price?  A lower standard of living for many American families?  I can see Reich's point that there has to be another way to make our country competitive, and education may be the way to go.

But what does that entail?  That everyone has to major in science or business rather than the humanities?  That may be good for the economy, but it's not good for our soul----since we should know about history and literature.  Perhaps there could be classes that would help humanities majors to apply the same critical-thinking and reasoning skills that they use in their own areas of study to other fields, such as business.

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