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The Disposable American

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About the Author

Louis Uchitelle worked as a reporter, editor, and foreign correspondent for the Associated Press until he joined The New York Times in 1980 as a business editor; he has written about economics for the Times since 1987 and was designated Senior Writer in 1994, joining a select group honored for achievement. In the early 1990s his reporting on the former Soviet Union's plunge into capitalism earned him a Pulitzer nomination, and he shared a George Polk award as lead writer on the seven-part Times series, "The Downsizing of America," in 1996. He taught feature writing at Columbia University and has been a visiting scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation.


Devoting a book to the necessity of preserving jobs is perhaps a futile endeavor in this age of deregulation and outsourcing, but veteran New York Times business reporter Uchitelle manages to make the case that corporate responsibility should entail more than good accounting and that six (going on seven) successive administrations have failed miserably in protecting the American people from greedy executives, manipulative pension fund managers, leveraged buyouts and plain old bad business practices. In the process, he says, we've gone from a world where job security, benevolent interventionism and management/worker loyalty were taken for granted to a dysfunctional, narcissistic and callous incarnation of pre-Keynesian capitalism. The resulting "anxious class" now suffers from a host of frightening ills: downward mobility, loss of self-esteem, transgenerational trauma and income volatility, to name a few. Uchitelle animates his arguments through careful reporting on the plight of laid-off Stanley Works toolmakers and United Airlines mechanics. Descriptions of their difficulties are touching and even tragic; they are also, alas, laborious and repetitive. And Uchitelle's solutions are not entirely convincing: neither forcing companies to abide by a "just cause" clause when they fire someone, for instance, nor doubling the minimum wage are likely to increase employment. Yet Uchitelle's basic argument-that no American government has taken significant steps to curb "the unwinding of social value" caused by corporate greed- is all too accurate. (Mar. 31) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

"Uchitelle effectively wrecks the claim that all this downsizing makes the country more productive, more competitive, more flexible. . . . A strong case that the whole middle class is at risk." --The New York Times "The Disposable American is an overdue wake-up call that could start making the wisdom of layoffs that much less conventional." --San Francisco Chronicle "Incisive. . . . An airtight case against the common wisdom that favors job cuts." --BusinessWeek "Uchitelle writes about the moral failings of our modern corporate structure with deep and persuasive insight. That alone makes the book a must-read." --Detroit Free Press

These are not your father's layoffs-seasonal plant shutdowns, and recession-induced furloughs. Layoffs today are permanent and life-shattering for blue-collar workers, professionals and even highly placed managers. Uchitelle (economics correspondent, the New York Times) chronicles the rise and impact of the American corporate culture of layoffs. Until the mid-1970s, American companies dominated the world economy and offered employees at all levels lifetime job security. However, with the rise of foreign competition, rising energy costs, and the retreat of the federal government from Keynesian economics, American corporations turned to massive layoffs as the panacea for their problems. Uchitelle talks to corporate leaders and employees to document the bad management and political failures that make huge layoffs seemingly inevitable. Highly skilled aircraft mechanics, production workers, and middle managers share their stories of emotional exhaustion and economic downgrading in this heart-wrenching book. It would be stronger, however, without his short final chapter on solutions to layoffs, which doesn't do that topic justice. Nonetheless, highly recommended for academic and larger public libraries.-Duncan Stewart, Univ. of Iowa Libs., Iowa City Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

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