September 28, 2007


REVIEW: of 'Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life ' by Robert B. Reich: The former Labor secretary discusses how capitalism on steroids shapes our lives today. (Terry Burnham, 9/28/07, LA Times)

Reich, a former secretary of Labor for the Clinton administration and now a professor at UC Berkeley, identifies human nature as a central cause for these woes. Borrowing a line from the comic strip "Pogo," he writes that "we have met the enemy and it is us." Throughout the book, he laments the decline in unionization and the increased variability of income in the United States. Finding the culprit in our greed, he writes, "consumers get great deals largely because workers get shafted."

Reich's view that our own human nature lies at the root of modern woes stands in refreshing contrast to standard left-right rhetoric. On the left, liberals assert a benign and blank-slate human nature manipulated by evil corporations. The right is even sillier, particularly when it propagates the hyper-rational view of neoclassical economics. For example, Nobel laureate Gary Becker published a famous academic article arguing that heroin addicts "maximize utility" when they inject themselves. Reich, however, threads an important distinction between leftist human innocence and libertarian human infallibility. As he notes in the book's strongest chapter, we are "of two minds" about modernity.

Other aspects of "Supercapitalism" are less satisfying. These include bad history, bad politics, bad economics and bad policy.

Imagine being in the economics seminar where Professor Reich tries explaining the difference between a worker and a consumer? Henry Ford had figured out there was none 80 years ago, which is where we got the weekend.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 28, 2007 7:55 AM

The ante-bellum South was full of "workers", and that's the kind of society Reich and the Left pine for, with themselves as the "consumers" enjoying the Mint Juleps.

(And when did "neoclassical" become perjorative? Or is the "neo-" prefix now a general purpose sneer word?)

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at September 28, 2007 11:13 AM

Nice elision of libertarian goofballs with right-wingers.

Posted by: Benny at September 28, 2007 12:34 PM

The takeaway point here is that even Reich realizes that he can't get anywhere attacking "capitalism," so he has to make up "supercapitalism."

Posted by: Bob Hawkins at September 29, 2007 10:28 AM

Unionism has declined because the forces that led to unionism have declined. When most can afford a home, and put food on the table, and have enough left over for luxuries - then the urge to form unions falls. Why go to all that work after work when what you want you can get?

When hardship is sharing a room with your brother/sister, you don't have it hard.

Posted by: Mikey [TypeKey Profile Page] at September 29, 2007 3:50 PM