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Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life

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From one of America's foremost economic and political thinkers comes a vital analysis of our new hypercompetitive and turbo-charged global economy and the effect it is having on American democracy. With his customary wit and insight, Reich shows how widening inequality of income and wealth, heightened job insecurity, and corporate corruption are merely the logical results From one of America's foremost economic and political thinkers comes a vital analysis of our new hypercompetitive and turbo-charged global economy and the effect it is having on American democracy. With his customary wit and insight, Reich shows how widening inequality of income and wealth, heightened job insecurity, and corporate corruption are merely the logical results of a system in which politicians are more beholden to the influence of business lobbyists than to the voters who elected them. Powerful and thought-provoking, Supercapitalism argues that a clear separation of politics and capitalism will foster an enviroment in which both business and government thrive, by putting capitalism in the service of democracy, and not the other way around. From the Trade Paperback edition.


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From one of America's foremost economic and political thinkers comes a vital analysis of our new hypercompetitive and turbo-charged global economy and the effect it is having on American democracy. With his customary wit and insight, Reich shows how widening inequality of income and wealth, heightened job insecurity, and corporate corruption are merely the logical results From one of America's foremost economic and political thinkers comes a vital analysis of our new hypercompetitive and turbo-charged global economy and the effect it is having on American democracy. With his customary wit and insight, Reich shows how widening inequality of income and wealth, heightened job insecurity, and corporate corruption are merely the logical results of a system in which politicians are more beholden to the influence of business lobbyists than to the voters who elected them. Powerful and thought-provoking, Supercapitalism argues that a clear separation of politics and capitalism will foster an enviroment in which both business and government thrive, by putting capitalism in the service of democracy, and not the other way around. From the Trade Paperback edition.

30 review for Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life

  1. 5 out of 5

    Margie

    I will now continue worshipping at the altar of Robert Reich. I came away from this book thinking, "Wow, I really learned something." Not, "I learned some interesting factoids," or "I learned of an interesting opinion." I really learned. Reich presents his premise very succinctly at the beginning of the book: The last several decades have involved a shift of power away from us in our capacities as citizens and toward us as consumers and investors. He then spends most of the rest of the book lookin I will now continue worshipping at the altar of Robert Reich. I came away from this book thinking, "Wow, I really learned something." Not, "I learned some interesting factoids," or "I learned of an interesting opinion." I really learned. Reich presents his premise very succinctly at the beginning of the book: The last several decades have involved a shift of power away from us in our capacities as citizens and toward us as consumers and investors. He then spends most of the rest of the book looking at the causes and ramifications of this shift. Spoiler alert: the ramifications are ugly. Supercapitalism is capitalism which has overtaken democracy. As citizens we've lost our voice because corporations and their money are able to speak so much more loudly than citizens can. And as investors and consumers, we want it that way. As consumers we want Wal-Mart to not give their workers health benefits because we prefer low prices. As investors we don't mind GE polluting because paying to upgrade the infrastructure (in order to minimize pollution) would drive down the market value of our shares. Reading about the causes and ramifications of this shift was absolutely fascinating, and I highly recommend this book. I'll close with a long quote which I think is a good representation of his views. Parentheticals are mine, and I've edited a bit. "Corporate executives are not engaged in a diabolical plot. The negative social consequences (declining wages, job losses, global warming) are the logical consequence of intensifying competition to give consumers and investors better and better deals. Those deals may require moving jobs abroad where they can be done at lower wages, substituting computers and software for people, or resisting unions. Or they may come at the expense of the earth's atmosphere. The deals my involve trampling human rights abroad or putting young children to work in Southeast Asia. As long as the deals are legal, and as long as they satisfy consumers and investors, corporations and their executives will pursue them. "This doesn't make them right, but the only way to make them wrong - the only way to stop companies from giving consumers and investors good deals that depend on such moves - is to make them illegal. It is illogical to criticize companies for playing by the current rules of the game; if we want them to play differently, we have to change the rules."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Rossdavidh

    This book, on the underlying causes behind what's changed in the capitalist world since the mid 70's and why, is a fascinating read. It also made me quake with rage on about every other page. That's the thing about looking at underlying causes of problems: it usually takes away the more obvious solutions, like "fire that guy", by demonstrating where he came from, and why there's a long line of people who will do pretty much the exact same thing, waiting to take his place. I'm not just talking abo This book, on the underlying causes behind what's changed in the capitalist world since the mid 70's and why, is a fascinating read. It also made me quake with rage on about every other page. That's the thing about looking at underlying causes of problems: it usually takes away the more obvious solutions, like "fire that guy", by demonstrating where he came from, and why there's a long line of people who will do pretty much the exact same thing, waiting to take his place. I'm not just talking about President of the country, it also applies to CEO's, Congress, investors, etc. The brilliance of Reich's analysis (and it does have flaws), is that it takes the classical economic theory of rational actors, and applies it rigorously. CEO's do what they're paid to do, so do Congressmen, so do Presidents. They don't make the rules, they just follow 'em. First, Reich has to state the problem. To summarize: the working middle-class in America is losing ground, our democratic government pays more attention to corporations than to real people, and we don't seem to have the ability to cope with problems like a superabundance of CO2 produced by our economy. Second, he knocks down several arguments. These changes (he shows in a variety of ways) started before Reagan, and continued with equal strength through the Clinton administration, so it's nothing to do with which party is in power. It also has been happening in European democracies (with a lag, but the same trends in the same direction) and elsewhere around the world, so it's nothing to do even with our government in particular. Third, he shows us the real reason. As communication technology (computers, phones, etc.) have advanced, the ability of consumers and investors to get the best deal possible has been dramatically increased. As he points out, Wal-Mart didn't use it's size to do what previous behemoths such as General Motors or Standard Oil did, which is to start increasing prices charged to consumers and squashing competition. By and large, Wal-Mart just used its size to put unprecedented pressure on their own suppliers (and workers), moving to any spot on the globe which was cheaper. As Reich points out, if Wal-Mart hadn't done it, someone else would have, and the results for small-town economies would have been the same. I had noticed this myself, in the semiconductor industry. In the last few decades, the profit margin for almost all kinds of IC chips has been declining, and current projections are that the next decade will see all the world's IC chips produced by about 7 factories. I also have seen equipment suppliers and IC manufacturers squabble in an increasingly bitter way about who's going to pay for R&D. If you can make your product for 5% less by cutting R&D, and that allows you to undercut your competitors by 5%, the current market is so efficient that your competitors will lose their customers to you faster than ever before. Ah, but what about the benefits of R&D? Won't that pay off in a few years, allowing you to make back market share? Perhaps, but not in time to keep your job. While we all know (and despise) how CEO salaries have skyrocketed, a lesser discussed fact is how CEO firings have skyrocketed. If you embark on a course which will pay off in three years, but cost you market share now, shareholders who hold their stocks for months, weeks, or even just a few days will sell, and the CEO will be sacked long before the payoff comes. To summarize: technology has so far made us far more powerful as consumers and investors, than it has as citizens. Reich goes to a great deal of trouble to illustrate this across many industries and even countries, and this part of the book is a great read. Now, for the part I found less convincing. Reich has little good to say about attempts to use this consumer and investor power, to advance our cause as citizens. In his opinion, the root of our political problem is that we allow corporations to behave as if they were citizens. Corporations can donate to political causes, file lawsuits in court to block regulations they dislike, and so forth. Reich thinks this has led to a government which is primarily run for the benefit of fictional people (corporations), and rarely for actual humans, even the humans who run them. For comparison, consider how the current market forces would have responded if Microsoft had attempted to behave as Bill Gates currently is in the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Giving to charities in the billions? Shareholder suits would have quickly blocked it. Giving to PAC's and political candidates? It is easy to show in court that this is a necessary part of protecting the corporation's bottom line, so it is protected. The very rules of our current system only allow us to worry about price, and anything which our market does not currently quantify, we are prohibited by our market-driven laws from taking action on. This is all true, as far as it goes, but the idea that we will fix this by electing a different kind of politician seems naive. Reich's own analysis shows that no Congress will take real action (on this or just about any other issue). The real conclusion I drew from this is that, if modern technology has empowered us only as consumers and investors, then that is the route we must use to empower ourselves as citizens. Really, though, the heart of this book is not what it suggest as the solution to our problems; that would make it just another political tract, and is probably why Reich doesn't spend much time on it. What makes it a great read is that it is an excellent analysis of How and Why We Got Here, with a great deal more depth (backed up with data and documented sources) than we will ever get from our impoverished political process. Not a fun read, but a good one. Just put it down if the sound of your teeth grinding in anger starts to distract others, and take it like bitter medicine, a chapter at a time.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Venky

    With the major part of 7 billion people left to combat a raging pandemic, the consequences of such a struggle transcends from being merely one related to health. While, what seems to be an existential crisis, has left the world of medicine scrambling to find a vaccine in record time, millions of indefatigable messiahs in the form of doctors, nurses, healthcare and sanitation workers are gamely putting their own lives at risk in trying to mitigate the spread of transmission. COVID-19 also has high With the major part of 7 billion people left to combat a raging pandemic, the consequences of such a struggle transcends from being merely one related to health. While, what seems to be an existential crisis, has left the world of medicine scrambling to find a vaccine in record time, millions of indefatigable messiahs in the form of doctors, nurses, healthcare and sanitation workers are gamely putting their own lives at risk in trying to mitigate the spread of transmission. COVID-19 also has highlighted in all its ugly starkness, another insidious plague that has been silently enveloping this world from the past four or five decades – the consequences of inequality. With escalating health care costs and an uncertain prospect of employment, many unfortunate men and women have succumbed to COVID-19 solely because they couldn’t afford to get treated. So how did we reach this degree of inequality that ensures that the richest 1 percent of the world’s population have accumulated a proportion of wealth that is more than that possessed by the bottom 50 percent combined? Robert Reich, an American economist, professor and author, who had served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, and Bill Clinton in a book titled “Super Capitalism”, and authored more than a decade ago addressed the very issue highlighted above. The work penned by the former Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997, remains valid and essential even today, perhaps more than ever considering the current socio-political global context. So what is Super Capitalism? According to Professor Reich, it is intense competition. As he informs his readers, the decades of the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s denoted the era of large oligopolies where across industries a handful of major competing corporates engaged in a symmetry of setting wages, prices and investments. This provided for a robust infrastructure of labour unions which ensured that the voice of labour was neither diminished nor neglected, irrespective of the nature of the industry. However, such a facet of pluralism started eroding beginning in the early 1970s with the advent of intense competition. While such a competition took the concept of free market and neoliberalism to a different league altogether, bestowing a hitherto unimaginable range of choices for the consumer, and fattening the purse of intrepid investors, this intense competition or Super Capitalism also brought with it a raft of completely avoidable practices. As Professor Reich articulates, political donations and lobbying became an inescapable part of the Corporate arsenal. “Google, for example, never thought about having a Washington office until it became a public company and had to deal with the stark reality that its major competitors, Yahoo and Microsoft, had platoons of Washington lawyers and lobbyists. Google was understandably worried that there were so many issues – intellectual property, competition policy, and trade policy, for example – that might be decided to its disadvantage if it did not have its own platoon of lobbyists in Washington. It’s an arms race, egged on by lawyers and lobbyists who have their headquarters in Washington and Brussels, and who carry on what can only be described as an extortion racket, selling their services to large companies, creating and sponsoring trade associations, bundling campaign money, and all in an effort to drum up more business from other companies and other sectors of the economy.” Irrespective of party affiliations and ideological preferences, corporate behemoths fill the coffers of Senators cutting across party lines, only to further their prospects in the market. Exacerbating this further is the “revolving door” principle. This movement of personnel between roles as legislators and regulators, on one hand, and members of the industries affected by the legislation and regulation, on the other ensures that too-big-to-fail entities are bailed out time and time again by whopping Government largesse, while the ordinary citizen and tax payer, who is far removed from all these corporate shenanigans is left holding the bag. This Corporate behavior, is to a large extent, driven by the unceasing pressure put on the Corporate chieftains by Investors and hedge fund managers. As Mr. Reich elucidates, by quoting the former CEO of Coca-Cola, Lou Gerstner, companies have the sole responsibility of generating returns for their investors. These days a CEO’s job security is inextricably linked to the company’s stock price recommendation. Mr. Reich illustrates how 60% of senior executives in the Fortune 500 companies had been at their firm for fewer than six years. So what is the remedy for ameliorating this corrupt nexus and to ensure that the hazards of Super Capitalism do not permeate our society? Professor Reich offers some interesting solutions. Making changes and improvements to campaign finance being one such prescription. A law that requires all candidates to set up what might be termed a ‘lock-box’ or a trust into which contributions would go could be an option. “The candidate could never legally know who contributed what, so immediately all those corporations seeking influence through their campaign contributions would have no reason to do so. But anyone who wanted to support a candidate because they believed in what the candidate stood for would not be deterred.” A change in the normally prevailing perception about the composition, context and structure of companies is also a need of the hour according to Mr. Reich. “If we think that we can just treat companies as moral beings and yell at them … for not being more socially responsible … we are diverting our attention from the hard work of democracy — of making laws and rules that reflect our real values.” To be very clear, Mr. Reich does not rail at the notion of Super Capitalism itself. He acknowledges that amongst all forms of business and economics, capitalism is the one that is the least mischievous than of all. His prescription is to ensure a level playing field for all involved and across strata by enacting laws that are judicious and legislation that is prudent. For example, he makes a stirring case, for example, abolishing the corporate income tax. “Super Capitalism” tries to strike a balance between the pursuit of profits and elimination of equality. This it accomplishes by using a prose that is alluring and a narrative that is compelling.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Tiffany Conner

    I had the distinct privilege of meeting Professor Reich in San Francisco last year. He is an intelligent, insightful, engaging man. I wish I were so privileged as to have an opportunity to take a class with him at Berkeley. Oh, he's also very, very short. Like, really short. And nice. He's nice too . . . for someone who attended law school. I enjoyed this book. This was my first time reading any of Professor Reich's work. I knew of him from his time as Secretary of Labor with the Clinton adminis I had the distinct privilege of meeting Professor Reich in San Francisco last year. He is an intelligent, insightful, engaging man. I wish I were so privileged as to have an opportunity to take a class with him at Berkeley. Oh, he's also very, very short. Like, really short. And nice. He's nice too . . . for someone who attended law school. I enjoyed this book. This was my first time reading any of Professor Reich's work. I knew of him from his time as Secretary of Labor with the Clinton administration, although nowadays his face is plastered on any news program discussing the projected policy objectives of the soon to be inaugurated Obama administration. Specifically, as such discussions pertain to economics. Reich's thesis is not original in that many scholars, commentator, and writers have begun to analyze the impact of the falsely propagated proposition that democracy and capitalism are inseparable. (See The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. No really, go now!) Paving the way for democracy need not mean a people must thereafter prepare for free market capitlism. The arguments made in favor of this idea tend to originate from financial and commercial camps, or their supporters on the right of the political spectrum. No surprise there. In light of the current implosion in the marketplace, more and more people are interested in interrogating this notion of an inevitably threaded capitalism and democracy, if only because equality and a commitment to genuine democratic institutions demand nothing less. Reich does a fine job of rebutting the fallacy that one cannot have good democracy unless one is willing to endure a widening gap between a nation's haves and have nots (nothing trickles down when you submit to a system which allows for the privatizing of gains whilst socializing the losses). Reich examines the perversion of the political process a la the infusion of PAC cash and lobbyist influence and the blatant engineering of the policy landscape which permits our public officials to pander to the public with posturing task forces and Congressional hearings which do nothing to tackle the real problems. But then again, how many of us ever ask the real questions? Here's the most fascinating part of this work: Reich is correct in one very brave assertion. The real problem with the U.S. system? Us! Are we citizens or are we investors? So long as refuse to decide which we are first and foremost, we are the problem. Rather than go on a rant against the encroaching power of corporations, Reich very intelligently points out that the reason why corporations behave the way they do is because they've been given the legislative foundation to do so, but what's more, they are requested to do so by their shareholders. It's what's required of them legally. Corporations have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, and who are shareholders? People like you and me. (Not me, I have no money, but you get the idea.) This concept of shareholder value has become so signficant in the sway it holds over decision-making in corporate circles, that maximizing returns for the sake of the investor, corporations do all of the things they are so often villified for (move jobs overseas where wage rates are much lower, for example), but that is what corporations are designed to do. Corporations, as they are currently conceived, are not benevolent constructions seeking to ensure equality for citizens. They are only concerned with making money for their investors. At first, I had a hard time reading this, but it just makes sense. Of course, this is not to say that corporations don't endeavor to structure the game so that it benefits them, but whose fault is that? Our lawmakers! If we want genuine change, the only way to create it is to confront the rulemakers. I've already gone on too much about this book. It's a short read. If you enjoy economics, policy discussions, and good writing, you'll like this book. I'm going to shut up now. I should start reading some Danielle Steel. Or something.

  5. 5 out of 5

    William

    I have no idea why I thought that Mr Reich would deliver the knockout blow or at least the stunning indictment of unrestrainted global capitalism in place today. Mr Reich was labor secretary during that most probusiness of administrations, the Clinton years. A probusiness stance only furthered and exacerbated in the following 8 Bush years. One could rightly accuse Mr. Reich of being an architect of the present global meltdown. But any mea culpas would be hard to find. No, what you will find here I have no idea why I thought that Mr Reich would deliver the knockout blow or at least the stunning indictment of unrestrainted global capitalism in place today. Mr Reich was labor secretary during that most probusiness of administrations, the Clinton years. A probusiness stance only furthered and exacerbated in the following 8 Bush years. One could rightly accuse Mr. Reich of being an architect of the present global meltdown. But any mea culpas would be hard to find. No, what you will find here is blame cast at history..excuse me but I thought as Labor Secretary he was in a unique position to ALTER the course of history! To empower the working man in the face of relentless assualt by big business and to enact laws and regulations to protect jobs and employment from ending up in dollar a day sweatshops in S.E. Asia. Mr. Reich goes on to place blame exactly where a hindsight seeing and unrepentant power broker would. At the feet of you and me. For if we didn't shop at Wal-mart and demand cheap goods to go with our reduced incomes then poor Wal-Mart wouldn't have to buy from those self same sweatshops. Certainly its a lot easier for a man of means and Reich has millions of means to stop shopping at Wal-mart than it is for the working poor. Reich makes a good argument for getting rid of the corporate income tax and the legal fiction that a corporation is equivilant to and acts as a "person'. Its a very good argument in theory but we live in the real world and with corporations managing to hide profits overseas and pay next to nothing now, what countervailing force will be available to make sure that they would play by the rules were Reich's policies adopted? With one percent of the U.S. population controling 95 percent of the wealth, U.S. capitalism is an obviously broken vehicle. This book was written BEFORE so much of its failings became so painfully obvious. As Obama continues with the recycled Bush economic policies, shoveling supertankers full of money at people and systems that have failed, delivering all of the profits to them and all of the risk to the people. How long will the people stand for it? Obama must take a differnet path to fix the broken system, to punish the wrong doers, and instead of the current quick fixes (TARP programs, industry bailouts) implement lasting changes and redistribution of power. I thought this book might provide a roadmap. I was dissappointed.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Andrew

    Supercapitalism by Robert B. Reich, is an interesting pre-recession analysis of the movement toward what Reich terms "Supercapitalism." This book starts off with an analysis of what Reich describes as the "Not Quite So Golden Age' of immense US-ked growth from the 1870's-1970's. This was an era of intensive innovation and invention, and massive geo-political change that led to the US-led system of economics and politics we know today. This age in the US was full of massive growth, huge demograph Supercapitalism by Robert B. Reich, is an interesting pre-recession analysis of the movement toward what Reich terms "Supercapitalism." This book starts off with an analysis of what Reich describes as the "Not Quite So Golden Age' of immense US-ked growth from the 1870's-1970's. This was an era of intensive innovation and invention, and massive geo-political change that led to the US-led system of economics and politics we know today. This age in the US was full of massive growth, huge demographic and social improvement and the invention of new technologies and services that improved the living standards of the average US citizen. The interests of labour and business were balanced, and therefore high wages and excellent benefits existed for workers at all levels of the production system. This age was not quite so golden, however, for a few reasons. Companies exerted monopolistic influence on their industries, which led to both positive investments in peripheral regions, but high costs of goods and services for consumers, as monopolistic economics would dictate. Racial and social tensions continued to dominate internally, and bald-faced foreign policy with corporate interests in mind was common. What changed? Well, Reich believes we have moved toward Supercapitalism. Labour has lost its power, corporate profits are higher than ever, and the stock market and financial world has grown exponentially since this time. All of these things have been led, not by shadowy government conspiracy, but by consumer and shareholder demand, ie. us. Our relentless drive for lower prices has opened the door for cheaper goods, the price decrease being funded by reduced labour and benefits payments to a companies employees, or off-shoring and corporate governance reductions. These things are done to maximize shareholder value and reduce prices for consumers. But Reich makes the point that this is not done out of purely corporate greed. Although executives and investors are often paid exorbitant amounts for their work, these figures are provided by shareholders - ie. everyone with a retirement fund, 401(k) or the like. The reduction in consumer prices is also interesting, as Reich says the average person in America is a split personality. On the one hand, they want cheaper goods at higher quality - a maximum return for ones money. On the other hand, they do not want to experience the negative externalities that come with cheap and easy consumer goods. It is a "have your cake and eat it too" principle that most people subscribe too without even knowing the two sides conflict. We can say that goods are too expensive because of the "evil corporation" at the same time as saying pollution and low wages are also the work of the "evil corporation." A very interesting point. Reich also covers corporate lobbying, executive salaries, US legislative history and global trade and competition to show that US corporate policy in the US and worldwide is causing massive wealth disparities, declining productivity, reduced innovation, government interference and declining democratic institutions and structures. Reich shows that capitalism is excellent for everyone if the needs of labour, corporation, and government are equally balanced, but if one or two parties offset the other, then structural flaws will begin to creep in, and severely weaken one interest to the eventual detriment of all. Reich's book was poignant and impassioned without being to ideological. Although Reich is probably considered heavily left-wing in the ideological rift of US politics, his look at economics is nuanced and appealing to readers who do not subscribe with such rhetorical divisions. All in all, Supecapitalism was an interesting book on the growing power and influence of the corporation in everyday life, and the negative impact this is having on social wellbeing, and economic principles. Reich's book is well argued, full of facts and statistics, and comes from the pre-recession era of popular economics books, meaning it has no preconceived notions. This is purely examination, and it works quite well. A recommended read for those interesting in economic theory at a lower level.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matt

    Robert Reich is sometimes categorized as a standard liberal idealogue. This book should put that characture to rest. Reich sees himself as pro-capitalism. The market is needed, Reich argues (echoing Milton Friedman) because dissent is undermined if one cannot dissent and also buy bread without government funds. There is, however, a difference between democratic capitalism and supercaptilism. And we have gone from one to the other, with terrible results. Simply put, Reich's thesis is that followin Robert Reich is sometimes categorized as a standard liberal idealogue. This book should put that characture to rest. Reich sees himself as pro-capitalism. The market is needed, Reich argues (echoing Milton Friedman) because dissent is undermined if one cannot dissent and also buy bread without government funds. There is, however, a difference between democratic capitalism and supercaptilism. And we have gone from one to the other, with terrible results. Simply put, Reich's thesis is that following the great depression and the second world war a set of regulations and the existence of strong unions kept capitalism democratic. Wages were good, the economy prospered, and the gap between rich and poor was small. What happened, as everyone knows, is that all this was undone. Since the 1970s unions have been crippled, corporate lobbyists have bought off most of washington, and the gap between rich and poor has grown beyond anyone's wildest imagination. why this has happened, however, is something Reich thinks has not been fully understood. The Standard liberal critique is that Ronald Reagan and the Neo-cons reversed and destroyed the new deal, corporations sacrificied social responsibility to seek profit alone, and cogressmen were bought off by their corporate masters. There is truth in these claims, but they are not, Reich argues the root of the problem. Democratic capitalism was transformed to supercapitalism because the consumer and investor in us has won out over the citizen. This is Reich's cetral claim. We pay lower prices for our goods. This satisfies the consumer and reaps profits for the investor. But how can companies charge such lower prices? By pushng the costs onto employees, who recieve fewer and fewer benefits and lower and lower wages. We attempt to fix this problem, Reich argues, in a very poor way. We appeal to personal responbility alone. We think it's all a matter of individuals "behaving decently" We wag our fingers at corrupt CEOs and demand corporations "act responsibly." But this is not what corporations do. They exist to make profits. We should not simply protest and scold, we must change the system. Reich argues that the only way to fix our system is to regulate it. Corporations will not serve the public good; they are not desinged to. Nor should they be. A corporation exists to make money. Money is often made by harming the environment, hurting employees, and deceiving the consumer. It's only simple pragmatism to realize this. Therefore, Reich concludes, the time has come to subject the system to a radical revision. We must regulate our corporations, and find ways to keep corporate money out of washington pockets (perhaps by insisting on public campaign financing). This is really an original an intersting book. Filled with pertinent sources ad arguments, this book forces us to consider what we must do to make capitalist serve democracy, rather than - as is our present system - make the people serve capitalism.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Joe

    This book describes the transition, particularly in America but also somewhat in the rest of the world, from a balanced capitalist democracy to a capitalism-dominated system. Previously, businesses served many purposes: they were important parts of communities, giving people stable jobs, strengthening communities and the country, and mostly stay out of politics and the government. Over time, as competition and widespread stock investing got more popular, an evolutionary process transformed the go This book describes the transition, particularly in America but also somewhat in the rest of the world, from a balanced capitalist democracy to a capitalism-dominated system. Previously, businesses served many purposes: they were important parts of communities, giving people stable jobs, strengthening communities and the country, and mostly stay out of politics and the government. Over time, as competition and widespread stock investing got more popular, an evolutionary process transformed the goals of businesses. The end result is that profit trumps all other considerations: safety and long-term security of workers, environmentalism, national patriotism, and similar things only matter inasmuch as they affect the bottom line. Supercapitalism goes into the history of the change, and why it continues. When there are only a small number of businesses, and trade happens mostly on a local level, there isn't the same requirement to compete only on price. As soon as people can shop across the entire world, the race to the bottom on prices accelerates. When a business' competitors all exist under the same rules of one government, those businesses have no reason to change the rules. Once their competitors include companies operating under other governments, or in markets in the same government covered under different parts of the law, it makes sense for businesses to spend millions lobbying for advantageous changes in the law. The book also talks a little bit about the way it can change. The system has evolved so that a person working individually can hardly change anything -- if you don't like a company's practices, you can avoid buying their items, but that doesn't really tell them what you disagree with. If you buy their stock, that sends the message that you support their actions -- and if you sell or avoid buying their stock, then you don't have a voice at all. Instead, change must come at a systemic level: it used to be that businesses were seen as playing a role within society, instead of being constrained by, and fighting against, the rules that we as a society have agreed upon: government and its laws. If we want to make a change, we have to once again strengthen that relationship. The book is interesting, but I didn't find it as compelling as other books that Reich has written. It's interesting, and worth reading if you find the subject interesting, but it would have been significantly more enjoyable if it was tightened up.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Alex Lee

    Reich admirably explains what neoliberalism is, at least, how it came to be and what the thresholds for its implications are. He is very clear in defining how and why lobbying works, and how an excess of money and competition disruptions politics, economics, labor and forms globalism. The root of this, he claims is technological disruption; tech discovered and funded through pentagon programs to fight communism. This tech eventually finds its way into consumer hands and starts to erode market org Reich admirably explains what neoliberalism is, at least, how it came to be and what the thresholds for its implications are. He is very clear in defining how and why lobbying works, and how an excess of money and competition disruptions politics, economics, labor and forms globalism. The root of this, he claims is technological disruption; tech discovered and funded through pentagon programs to fight communism. This tech eventually finds its way into consumer hands and starts to erode market organization, leading to supercapitalism as a free for all for profit. Although Reich is not a philosopher this has implications as to the nature of reality and ideology; that the interaction between different relations is what activates what is to be considered real. All in all, this is a good book to establish the ground floor interactions of our world. From here, we can see the alignment of bureaucracy, audit culture and so on. It's been claimed that we are ending the era of neoliberalism, but the new context as of yet has no name.... people are beginning to be able to name what neoliberalism is, but because there is as of yet no orientation to a deeper synthesis to align us, people are starting to embrace more extreme positions thinking that they are now allowed to behave in ways that they like to ensure their perceived interests. The reappearance of violence (against police, against various terror groups and the extreme remarks made by politicians) are all the result of a lack of an acknowledged justified view of "how things are supposed to go". Without that guiding line, people will resort to violence in order to achieve their ends.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Betsy Curlin

    Without a doubt, one of the best books I've ever read on the economics of American society, and how this has changed from the Democratic Capitalism of the 1950s and 1960s (remember LBJ's Great Society?) to the Supercapitalism of our present time. Reich is adept at explaining economic policy in terms that the layman can understand, while keeping the narrative intelligent and engaging. I know understand why very little public policy legislation comes out of Congress, why present day CEOs are paid Without a doubt, one of the best books I've ever read on the economics of American society, and how this has changed from the Democratic Capitalism of the 1950s and 1960s (remember LBJ's Great Society?) to the Supercapitalism of our present time. Reich is adept at explaining economic policy in terms that the layman can understand, while keeping the narrative intelligent and engaging. I know understand why very little public policy legislation comes out of Congress, why present day CEOs are paid exorbitant salaries, why job layoffs are inevitable, and why many former US jobs and companies are outsourcing and building there factories oversees. The economy is driven by investors and consumers, and Congressmen are dependent on the huge amounts of money they receive from corporate lobbyists to finance their campaigns. In short, the large corporations have bought Congress, and it is their interests that are being served, not those of the a average person. As a consequence, the Middle Class is disappearing, wages are decreasing or stagnant, and the top 1% of all Americans hold the majority of the wealth, yet have the lowest tax rate in the past 30 years. One of the good points of this book is that it does not lay blame on any political party and is in that respect bipartisan. Refreshing to see in this day and age.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Roger

    I see myself as unequivocally capitalist, believing in creative destruction and the rewarding of those who give the most value to consumers. Nevertheless, despite the scathing condemnation of supercapitalism in this book, I feel that it was a worthwhile read, and recommend it to everyone who wants to have a stake in greater society. It is especially relevant to Americans, who always confuse democracy and capitalism. Nowadays, there is a large disconnect between these two mechanisms. One has done I see myself as unequivocally capitalist, believing in creative destruction and the rewarding of those who give the most value to consumers. Nevertheless, despite the scathing condemnation of supercapitalism in this book, I feel that it was a worthwhile read, and recommend it to everyone who wants to have a stake in greater society. It is especially relevant to Americans, who always confuse democracy and capitalism. Nowadays, there is a large disconnect between these two mechanisms. One has done its job (capitalism) and one has not (democracy). If you destroy one, there's no dissonance. But can you have harmonize both of them? You could...if a person treated their dollars like voting rights. With every purchase a moral decision whereupon you support a cause, suddenly corporations may not be able to appeal purely with low prices. Also, I will no longer treat corporations as people with voting rights and moral obligations. They are fictional constructs designed to aggregate resources. They are the tools of the people who own shares and who work in them. Because morality is ultimately a personal thing, its judgment must therefore be on the personal level.

  12. 5 out of 5

    John

    This is the best non-fiction book I've read since Gödel, Escher, Bach An Eternal Golden Braid, and the best economics/public policy book I've ever read. (It beats Freakonomics because it's actually applicable to real life.) I recommend this book to anyone and everyone--especially if you're interested in public policy and how to strengthen democracy here in the U.S. and worldwide. This is the best non-fiction book I've read since Gödel, Escher, Bach An Eternal Golden Braid, and the best economics/public policy book I've ever read. (It beats Freakonomics because it's actually applicable to real life.) I recommend this book to anyone and everyone--especially if you're interested in public policy and how to strengthen democracy here in the U.S. and worldwide.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    It's so easy today for us to rant about corporate greed or the sad fact that small independent businesses are being replaced by large superstores. And we are quick to blame heartless CEOs or big corporations. But in his book, Supercapitalism, Reich describes the forces in the US that are driving these changes and how we, as consumers, stock holders, and employees play a distinct and sometimes contrary role. Definitely some interesting points raised in this book - excellent in audio and a great b It's so easy today for us to rant about corporate greed or the sad fact that small independent businesses are being replaced by large superstores. And we are quick to blame heartless CEOs or big corporations. But in his book, Supercapitalism, Reich describes the forces in the US that are driving these changes and how we, as consumers, stock holders, and employees play a distinct and sometimes contrary role. Definitely some interesting points raised in this book - excellent in audio and a great book for a stimulating discussion.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Brian

    A very well written book about the interaction between capitalism and democracy. It contains an excellent history of markets in the United States, displaying how they have functioned in the past, how they operate currently, and what caused those changes. Reich's writing eschews ideology. This book is easy to read, and I would recommend it to anyone regardless of political orientation.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ahmed Al-Majid

    An amazingly written book about what capitalism has transformed into. Just started it, and completely spellbound.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Hemanth

    must read to get an idea on the policy level drive by the big corporations, written by someone who is so closely associated with the processes and actors

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy Lyon

    Over the last couple of decades I’ve accumulated a library of books that I always intended to read, but never quite got around to. Many of those books have taken on a lot more relevance since the 2016 election. Take for example Supercapitalism, by Robert Reich. Copyrighted in 2007, it turns out that Reich’s analysis has a lot to say about the predicament we find ourselves in today, 10 years later. And although Reich is all over the social media feeds as a committed anti-Trump crusader, his insigh Over the last couple of decades I’ve accumulated a library of books that I always intended to read, but never quite got around to. Many of those books have taken on a lot more relevance since the 2016 election. Take for example Supercapitalism, by Robert Reich. Copyrighted in 2007, it turns out that Reich’s analysis has a lot to say about the predicament we find ourselves in today, 10 years later. And although Reich is all over the social media feeds as a committed anti-Trump crusader, his insights into the relationship between capitalism and democracy are relevant no matter which side of the political abyss you might find yourself standing. Reich’s basic argument is this: as human beings we are consumers, investors and citizens. Free market capitalism is an incredibly powerful tool for satisfying our desires as consumers and investors, but is incapable of addressing our needs as citizens. For example, as consumers we want to get the lowest prices for goods and services, but as citizens we want to see our friends and neighbors employed in steady, well-paying jobs. Companies move jobs offshore to save money that they pass on to us as consumers. But they also shutter factories that employ our fellow citizens. Companies that keep jobs in America will produce goods that cost more than companies that don’t. “Made In America” campaigns notwithstanding, consumers will buy the cheaper goods from other companies, driving up their profits and attracting investors away from the company producing in America. This is in fact capitalism’s genius: the forces of supply and demand inexorably drive prices and production to the level that best satisfies society’s economic needs. Even though those two sides of our needs as humans are in competition, there’s an idea that corporations should play a role in deciding the questions that concern us as citizens. It’s a holdover from the middle of the last century, when technology favored companies with large, predictable supply chains and when capital was slow to move. Those inefficiencies made room for corporations to defy the pressures of the market. Computers, standardized shipping containers, advances in supply chain management and a flurry of other technological innovations have removed those market inefficiencies. Corporations that try to act as citizens at the expense of their bottom line will be outcompeted by those who don’t, as Reich’s numerous examples show. The only way to ensure that our society develops in accordance with our desires as citizens, when doing so conflicts with market pressures, is to modify the market as a whole through government action. But the voice of citizens in government is drowned out by the tumult of corporate competition. Our laws enable corporations to influence politicians through professional lobbying and campaign contributions. Corporations who don’t compete in government put themselves at a competitive disadvantage when corporations that do win favorable legislation. Our laws that govern how money can be spent in elections make money an effective substitute for legislative virtue. So politicians, too, are exposed to competitive pressures that disadvantage those who might otherwise express the voice of the citizen. As Reich says when he turns from analysis to remedy, “Without a democracy that will implement them, policy ideas about ‘what should be done’ are beside the point. A more fundamental question, therefore, is how to make democracy work better.” He tries to answer that question, but with a lot less detail than he provides in his historical analysis. He believes that before we can figure out the next step, we need to admit that our civic desires are often in competition with our economic needs, and that the conflation of the two spheres necessarily advantages the economic. I had a number of, “ah ha!” moments reading this book. Although Reich doesn’t outline a clear blueprint for reform, I found his framing of the problem space useful, highly relevant 10 years on, and at times prescient. I recommend it.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cem Yüksel

    Right observations and analysis on how consumer and shareholder got the power in the era that companies have been put in though competition through availibility of choices. Consumer has the alternatives boosted by global supply chain in case of uncompetitive products/services and shareholders have other investment options in case of low returns. This brings companies to focus on profitability and cheaper/better/faster. Although it is a benefit for consumer, the consequences are on unemployment i Right observations and analysis on how consumer and shareholder got the power in the era that companies have been put in though competition through availibility of choices. Consumer has the alternatives boosted by global supply chain in case of uncompetitive products/services and shareholders have other investment options in case of low returns. This brings companies to focus on profitability and cheaper/better/faster. Although it is a benefit for consumer, the consequences are on unemployment in some countries, negative environmental impact , low wage/child labour in other countries. The book argues consumer will continue to choose their benefit although they will ask for more responsible approach on these from companies and corporates will do anything only when it serves the profitability under supercapitalism. His solution is bringing state into the game for regulations. The second solution proposed is to give more voice to people through democracy although it foresees the risk of manipulation. If the book were written nowadays, I am not sure second solution proposal may be different or not , considering the trend of governance over the world.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Robert Mahon

    Hmm, so how to review Supercapitalism? The short answer is that, as a student of economics and economic philosophy, I appreciate what Prof. Reich has to say. He is highly educated and experienced at the highest levels. In this book, there is much with which I agree....and much (the majority) with which I disagree. I think one of the first things to understand is what Prof. Reich means by the term "Super Capitalism". I took it not to be his idea of what "super" capitalism is or should/could be. N Hmm, so how to review Supercapitalism? The short answer is that, as a student of economics and economic philosophy, I appreciate what Prof. Reich has to say. He is highly educated and experienced at the highest levels. In this book, there is much with which I agree....and much (the majority) with which I disagree. I think one of the first things to understand is what Prof. Reich means by the term "Super Capitalism". I took it not to be his idea of what "super" capitalism is or should/could be. No, it seems clear to me that he means it as a pejorative term for the disease of "supercapitalsm" that he sees having swept not only America, but around the world. This would be different from what he calls "democratic capitalism". In my view, there is something to this (the part where business interests/special interests end up influencing and even subverting democracy)....but I disagree with much of his remedy. I could go through each and every thought he has on labor law, policy, micro and macro-economics....some with which I agree, probably more I do not. However, better to simply say that Prof Reich....though in my view a very learned, experienced, decent and honest man....seems to me to be a dyed-in-the-wool socialist. I hesitate to use that term, since so very many people today use it, while having absolutely no clue whatsoever what it means. I do. Prof Reich does not seem to show much if any support for the concept of free markets and free enterprise (unless they are authorized, monitored and controlled by some level of "gvt"). He seems to me to relish the idea of a command economy and perhaps 100% unionization (do not forget that the Clinton administration used "executive order" to try and make it law that any company that permanently replaced a striking worker would be BANNED from working with the US gvt.....the supreme court eventually had to crush this 100% unconstitutional law). From what I read in this book, I see Prof Reich as HIGHLY pro-union, collective bargaining, union rights, regulation, modified command economy and favoring gvt set wages. In short....a "neo-socialist". Having said that, I VERY much agree with some of his ideas, including his assessment of (in my view) the biggest problem facing our country today- LOBBYIST Paid lobbyist and the revolving door between Washington and lobbying firms is out of control. Politicians do what with get them the most $$ for the next election cycle, which is perpetual. In return, they provide benefits for those companies or industries. It often works the other way too. A politician/lawmaker/gvt administrator may help out an industry or company.....in order to take a 7-figure salary position after leaving office. Lobbying of politicians and the spreading of propaganda (often by the same people) has subverted this country. Prof Reich spends a good deal of time on this, and hits the nail right on the head. Where else do I agree with Prof Reich? He is in favor of the de-coupling of health insurance and employment. I 100% agree! I also agree with his, in my view correct, view of the nature of corporations. They are not people, and they do not pay taxes. This is true; so, they have no rights in and of themselves. However, I don't think he holds the same opinion of labor unions. I suspect that in his view, labor unions have rights well beyond the individual level...which would be the exact opposite argument he holds with respect to corporations. At one point, he says that it's appropriate for unions to use union dues to make political contributions as they (union bosses) see fit. He claims that corporations do the same thing when you buy stock. This is so totally illogical and contrary to ALL fact, it's nearly funny. In a "union shop" you MUST pay union dues (there is a loophole out of part of this mandatory payment...but most don't know about it, are never told...and are scared to try it). In the case of stock ownership, you DO NOT have to buy any stock. It's voluntary. Though I disagree with a good deal of what Prof Reich has to say....I give him credit for saying what he believes. He (in my opinion) is not a economist/former politician who said what someone ELSE wanted in order to get a juicy lobbying position. He simply said exactly what he believes. That is refreshing today. Remember, you can learn as much from studying the counterpoint to your views as you can staying with that which you agree (confirmation bias). Plus, you can learn something from just about everyone....whether they hold the same views as you, or not. I'll leave with this thought- MANY on the "left" side of economic spectrum claim that large retailers like WalMart are killing wages and forcing people to work for low-wages and low or no benefits. To these people, including Prof Reich I would ask.....so, if WalMart was shut down in Anywhereville, Texas.....and the residents of that market now had to shop at momandpop toys for their kid's toys....and at Jim's Hardware for their hardware.....and at Sally's Stationer for their office supplies and stationary......do you think that the employees there (the local retailers) make more and have better benefits than when they worked at WalMart?? Do you really think the checkout person at "Jim's Hardware" or the local shoe store makes $45,000 per year with 4 weeks vacation and paid health benefits??? Do they source only products not made in China, Taiwan, India....etc?? Surly not! Profits at the local stores generally stay local and are spent locally, that's true. True American style competition is enhanced with fewer "big box" retailers....that's also true. Suppliers aren't may not be as squeezed via local retail compared to "big box" (though the net effect of this is highly debatable and more complex)..... But employee wages is the talking point....and the truth is, employees are not negatively affected. If anything, it's a slight positive.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Yoshi Is

    I always wanted to get rich and wealthy, still do. In my opinion, I do not think there is nothing wrong with wanting to be rich, in terms of money. However, I am against the mentality of becoming rich even stomping upon poor and doing something that deep inside you know it is wrong. This book made me think about all the corporations that only cares about money, and as citizens we have to stop this. I mean come on, there is have to be a line where you help people for pure goodness and not about p I always wanted to get rich and wealthy, still do. In my opinion, I do not think there is nothing wrong with wanting to be rich, in terms of money. However, I am against the mentality of becoming rich even stomping upon poor and doing something that deep inside you know it is wrong. This book made me think about all the corporations that only cares about money, and as citizens we have to stop this. I mean come on, there is have to be a line where you help people for pure goodness and not about profits.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jokersdot

    Great explanation and debunking of some corporate business behaviors in the modern era. Although for some other countries, the author’s solutions as of more regulation and more restrictions of corporate activity in politics will surely not work mostly because the law is crudely not and quite never respected and we as citizens do nothing still.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Mollerus

    Very interesting take on the global economy and how we got here and some ideas for how to keep human interests in the foreground through political measures.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Paul Wilcock

    Everything is terrible!

  24. 4 out of 5

    David

    Supercapitalism documents the transformation in the American economy from what Robert Reich calls "Democratic Capitalism" towards "Supercapitalism". In the "not so Golden Age", between the end of World War II and the mid-1970's, the U.S. economy was structured as a three-way contract between big business, big labor, and big government. Business got its profits, labor got its wages and benefits, and government played its role as regulator and agent of the unions. Absent foreign competition, large Supercapitalism documents the transformation in the American economy from what Robert Reich calls "Democratic Capitalism" towards "Supercapitalism". In the "not so Golden Age", between the end of World War II and the mid-1970's, the U.S. economy was structured as a three-way contract between big business, big labor, and big government. Business got its profits, labor got its wages and benefits, and government played its role as regulator and agent of the unions. Absent foreign competition, large corporations were able to strike an ideal balance between profitability and providing solid, middle-class jobs. Executives saw themselves as “corporate statesmen”. What happened to that economy, and why is it that the average citizen is worse off in some regards than they were fifty years ago? What happened, Reich explains, is that the insuppressible forces of technology and global trade dealt a double-whammy to the economy of the “not quite Golden Age”. The “creative destruction” of microprocessors, telecommunications, foreign trade, shipping containers, etc. etc., created myriad possibilities for new businesses to challenge the oligopolistic industrial order of the post war decades. While the citizen and the wage earner have lost much of their stature, the consumer and the investor have benefitted fabulously under Supercapitalism. Nowadays, the consumer has an endless array of choices for services and commodities, at very low prices. The wealthy investor has unprecedented opportunities for growing their wealth. But, this comes at a terrible cost to the middle class: diminishing incomes for American workers, less job security, and massive income inequality not seen since the eve of the Great Depression. Reich states that “most of us are of two minds”; as consumers, we expect great, great deals on the things we purchase, while as citizens we simultaneously are appalled by the junk wages paid to factory workers in the third world, and we bemoan the decline of American manufacturing jobs. Reich has very practical views about the motivations of the private sector, and explains why the corporate “social responsibility” movement is ridiculous. Corporations, he asserts, are nothing but bundles of contracts- profit-seeking organizations that were never intended as institutions of philanthropy. Businesses do whatever is necessary in order to maximize returns for their shareholders, and they (usually) do so within the laws and regulations set by the government. Wal-Mart pays its employees minimum wage because that's the legal minimum they must pay. Wal-Mart doesn't provide health benefits to part time workers because they are not required to by law. In Congressional hearings, politicians grandstand against big corporate CEO's with their vulgar paychecks and runaway profits, but then take no action in the form of enacting new laws and regulations that would reform businesses' relationship with the public sphere. Reich is brutally honest here- until American society decides collectively that we must “change the rules of the game” through the power of Uncle Sam, we have no choice but to accept things as they are. No amount of chicken-shit foot-stomping or blaming corporations will alter the system. Reich also discusses corporate lobbying in Washington (a purely “bipartisan” activity) as a microcosm of the increasingly intense competition between large companies. Lobbyists fight for laws and regulations that either give their clients competitive advantage or deny their rivals competitive advantage. Lobbying hasn't exploded because businesses are becoming more greedy or because politicians have become more corrupt; it has exploded because intense competitive pressures force businesses to allocate funds to Washington to influence policy. A bit repetitive, but all in all an excellent read.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Todd Martin

    In Supercapitalism Robert B. Reich (former Secretary of Labor under Clinton) argues that while capitalism has progressed in the last 40 years offering consumers and investors more choices, power and freedoms, that this has come at the expense of a diminishment to democracy. People have less individual power at the voting booth, candidates are less responsive to the needs of their constituents and government expends its efforts serving the businesses who bank roll their careers rather than the pu In Supercapitalism Robert B. Reich (former Secretary of Labor under Clinton) argues that while capitalism has progressed in the last 40 years offering consumers and investors more choices, power and freedoms, that this has come at the expense of a diminishment to democracy. People have less individual power at the voting booth, candidates are less responsive to the needs of their constituents and government expends its efforts serving the businesses who bank roll their careers rather than the public. In effect … capitalism (and in particular the unregulated free market capitalism that Reich describes as “supercaptalism”) is antithetical to a vibrant democracy. A majority of Americans believe that companies have too much political power in the US and if you ask most people why this is the case they will point to such things as: deregulation, union busting, globalization, political contributions, income inequality, the revolving door between the public and private sectors, and lobbyists, etc. And while each of these plays a contributing role, Reich argues that unrestrained capitalism is the underlying cause behind it all. Reich believes that because markets have become so competitive, consumers and investors demand the lowest prices and the highest share returns. Since corporations are only beholden to these two groups, they are thus obligated to take any legal action necessary to retain market share and increase their stock price. This includes low wages and benefits for their employees, moving manufacturing and jobs overseas, and lobbying to make sure laws are written in their favor. Each of these actions benefits each of us as consumers and investors, but also has the effect of harming us as citizens. Reich firmly fixes the blame for our present situation with each of us, since we benefit as consumers, yet have not managed to legislate a balance between these contrary forces. So, what’s to be done? Reich urges politicians to enact laws that curtail unacceptable behaviors by corporations. While there is a great deal of truth in his analysis, I disagree with Reich on two points: First, I think Reich lets corporations off the hook rather too easily. While it might not be illegal for cigarette companies to lie about the harmful effects of smoking, or oil companies to manufacture doubt about climate change, or car companies to fight against safety standards that will save lives, or drug companies to market inferior or harmful products, or financial institutions to nearly bring down the global economy there’s no doubt that the ethics of such activities are dubious. Citizens have the right to hold companies accountable for their actions. There’s nothing like a good public shaming to pressure businesses and individuals to act in ways that are less evil. Shaking your head like a bemused parent, saying “boys will be boys” as your child (corporation) sets fire to the house (dismantles product safety standards) is nothing if not complicit. Second, I suspect the window for implementing legal reform has closed. It’s one thing to tell congress to enact laws that protect the public interest, it’s quite another for them to actually do it. As we’ve seen with background checks for handguns … despite that fact that 92% of the public supports this measure, congress has failed to enact the law because they no longer serve the public, they serve the corporations who finance their campaigns. We have reach a point of no return when the very individuals necessary to enact solutions (politicians) have been subsumed by the supercapitalist organizations who call the shots.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brian Gabriel

    Capitalism is roughly defined as "economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit from investment." Democracy is defined as "a form of government in which all the people have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives." Admittedly not entirely well-versed in economics or political science, I believed that democracy and capitalism were always symbiotic (meaning what was good for democracy was always good for capitalism and vice-versa). Furth Capitalism is roughly defined as "economic system in which the means of production are privately owned and operated for profit from investment." Democracy is defined as "a form of government in which all the people have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives." Admittedly not entirely well-versed in economics or political science, I believed that democracy and capitalism were always symbiotic (meaning what was good for democracy was always good for capitalism and vice-versa). Furthermore, I never envisioned one principle encroaching on the other. However, the thesis of Reich's book "Supercapitalism" is that capitalism has become "Super" and grossly encroached on the interests of the majority of Americans (democracy). As Reich states: "Supercapitalism has triumphed as power has shifted to consumers and investors. They now have more choice than ever before, and can switch ever more easily to better deals. And competition among companies to lure and keep them continues to intensify. This means better and cheaper products, and higher returns. Yet as supercapitalism has triumphed, its negative social consequences have also loomed larger. These include widening inequality as most gains from economic growth go to the very top, reduced job security, instability of or loss of community, environmental degradation, violations of human rights abroad, and a plethora of products and services pandering to our basest desires." Admittedly this is the first of several books on the economy I would like to read, so perhaps my later reads will temper my enthusiasm for Reich's book. But here are some particular facets of the book I enjoyed: 1) Despite is rather provocative title, most of the book was less sensational and more measured. Most of his major points were laboriously researched, and interesting anecdotes were reinforced with empirical insights. 2) Reich's objectivity and pragmatism stand out. Although admittedly he was Secretary of Labor for (Democrat) Bill Clinton, he doesn't appear to suffer from a political myopia. For example, Reich largely exonerates Reagan from 'breaking/busting' Unions (he notes union membership had already begun declining during Carter's administration), and several times credits specific Republicans for specific efforts. In fact, coming from someone who was a political appointee, the book is rather devoid of political analysis (with the one HUGE exception that the majority of politicians are too beholden to corporate interests). Also, Reich refrains from casting judgement on typical scapegoats such as corporate CEOs. In fact, he notes that while CEO pay and bonuses may appear astronomical, they in fact typically reflect just a fraction of the wealth these CEOs accrue for their company. If I could provide any recommendation for this book, it would be an extended analysis of suggested resolutions for our presently weakened democracy. Reich does suggest some very concrete steps (some of which did surprise me, including abolishing the corporate income tax, limiting corporate criminal liability, and refraining from punishing corporations moving abroad). However, perhaps he could of further revealed the anticipated consequences of these steps (good or bad). In any event, this is a very minor critique of a book that was otherwise excellent.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Brenton

    A very intuitive, intriguing look at how capitalism and democracy fit together. Reich dismisses political theories that place the problems of our recent decades at the feet of one class or another (i.e. Ronal Reagan showing businesses that unions could and should be stood up to, corporate executives becoming greedier or less ethical) and seeks a systematic understanding of how capitalistic forces, once constrained by a mix of democratic institutions and oligopolies, has come to overwhelm the dem A very intuitive, intriguing look at how capitalism and democracy fit together. Reich dismisses political theories that place the problems of our recent decades at the feet of one class or another (i.e. Ronal Reagan showing businesses that unions could and should be stood up to, corporate executives becoming greedier or less ethical) and seeks a systematic understanding of how capitalistic forces, once constrained by a mix of democratic institutions and oligopolies, has come to overwhelm the democratic process. The thesis in a nutshell: 1) As members of both a capitalist economy and a democracy, we are both consumers/investors and citizens, the former always seeking better deals, the latter seeking to promote the public good and advance cooperative goals. 2) The "Not Quite Golden Age" of democratic capitalism (roughly the 1950s through the early 1970s) was dominated by not competition but oligopoly, where mass production and economies of scale required stable and predictable labor markets, which were provided by big unions. Our citizen sides were well-served, consumers/investors not so much. 3) Advances in communication, transportation, and other technologies (globalization) broke up traditional oligopolies and required businesses to become highly competitive to maintain highly mobile customers and investors. 4) At the same time that business became more competitive, traditional democratic institutions like unions and civic organizations became less influential, and public policies aimed at balancing consumer and citizen goals were rolled back under the deregulation pushes starting in the 1970s. 5) Because public policy can give individual companies, sectors, or industries competitive advantages over their competitors, businesses pour large amounts of money into politics, drowning out surviving civic institutions and individual citizens. 6) The end result is that our consumer/investor selves are satisfied with low-priced goods and high investment returns, but our citizen selves are left unsatisfied due to things like environmental degradation, job and wage insecurity, human rights abuses, taudry & violent media, and the collapse of traditional "Main Streets" and communities. 7) We cannot (nor, Reich argues, should we) return to the democratic capitalism of the past. To preserve democracy, we need to keep capitalism and democracy separate. For this to be achieved, corporations cannot be allowed to have rights and privileges reserved for citizens (such as the right to sue, the responsibility for paying taxes, and the right to be represented in the democratic process). Like most academic-type books, this one hammers on the thesis a bit more often than necessary. It was a bit depressing reading the last section because the recommendations were so difficult to swallow, both philosophically (I can maybe buy the arguments about why the corporate tax creates perverse incentives, but do away with it completely???) and practically (this book came out before Citizens United, which seems to preclude many of his recommendations about limiting corporate influence in the democratic process). However, the book was well-written and felt highly accessible. Definitely worth reading!

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jenny

    Neat book presenting his theory that the ills of capitalism are not the fault of corporations, but rather democracy. Corporations exist to make money for their shareholders, so the only way to ensure actual social responsibility is through legislation. OK, fair enough. I'm curious to know what he thinks these days, since he wrote this before the current economic downturn. In his own words: --"Personally, I'd be willing to sacrifice some of the benefits I get as a consumer and investor in order to Neat book presenting his theory that the ills of capitalism are not the fault of corporations, but rather democracy. Corporations exist to make money for their shareholders, so the only way to ensure actual social responsibility is through legislation. OK, fair enough. I'm curious to know what he thinks these days, since he wrote this before the current economic downturn. In his own words: --"Personally, I'd be willing to sacrifice some of the benefits I get as a consumer and investor in order to achieve these social ends--as long as everyone else was, too. Yet how to create new rules of the game? The market is adept at catering to us as consumers and investors, but democracy has become less responsive to us in our roles as citizens seeking to make the rules of the game fairer." (p 13) --"According to a 1908 government study, almost three-fifths of the wage earners in principal branches of American industry had been born abroad." (p 18) --"...the motivating factors were opportunities that had not presented themselves before. To confuse greed with opportunity is to confound desire with availability." (p 73) --"In 1955, more than a third of American workers in the private sector belonged to a labor union. By 2006, fewer than 8 percent did... Nonunion workers were also affected. Organized labor no longer had enough clout for its wage agreements to raise prevailing wages across an industry." (p 80) --"Wall Street has not been terribly happy about Costco CEO Jim Sinegal's beneficence toward his employees." (p 101) --"The main culprit has not been corporate greed or CEO insensitivity but rather the increasing pressure on companies from consumers like you and me who want better deals, and from investors like us who want better returns." (p 103) --"...by 2004, America's top 1 percent of earners received 16 percent of the nation's total income--double their 8 percent share in 1980. The share going to the top .1 percent more than tripled since 1980, to 7 percent." (p 105) --"Since the 1970s, the nation's richest 1 percent--comprising roughly one and a half million families in 2004--have more than doubled their share of total national wealth. In 1976, the owned about 20 percent of America. By 1998,the latest data available, they had accumulated over a third of the nation's wealth--more than the entire bottom 90 percent put together." (p 114) --"The predominance of corporate-financed "experts" in policy making, in effect, leads the public to assume the only issues of any importance are those that bear on the welfare of consumers and investors, rather than on the well-being of society or the planet as a whole... Public policies are to be judged by a utilitarian calculus of whether they improve the efficiency of the economy." (p 161) --"All these steps are worthwhile but they are not undertaken because they are socially responsible. They're done to reduce costs." (p 171) --"Supercapitalism does not permit acts of corporate virtue that erode the bottom line... regulations are the only means of getting companies to do things that hurt their bottom lines." ( p 204)

  29. 5 out of 5

    Igor

    Investment capitalism's intense competition leads actors to gain any imaginable advantage over their competitors. Personal ethics must give way to investor demands, because of how liquid investment has become and how easily investors can invest in better returns from competitors that don't have ethical (whatever that means) reservations that stagnate profits. This, coupled with government deregulation, has transformed the economy from one of oligopolies driven by labor unions benefiting unionize Investment capitalism's intense competition leads actors to gain any imaginable advantage over their competitors. Personal ethics must give way to investor demands, because of how liquid investment has become and how easily investors can invest in better returns from competitors that don't have ethical (whatever that means) reservations that stagnate profits. This, coupled with government deregulation, has transformed the economy from one of oligopolies driven by labor unions benefiting unionized employees, to one that is much more decentralized and catering to consumer and investor demands. Old time labor unions have been replaced by the likes of corporations like Wal-Mart, that could be thought of as a union of consumers, aggregating their demand for consumer choice and low prices. In the quest for profit and attracting investors (which are the selective forces driving the evolution of the "supercapitalistic" economy) has led companies to fight over government-mediated advantages by increasing investing into lobbying. This is an unavoidable consequence of having high stakes competition coupled with a government capable of giving advantages to those that lobby for it. Companies that don't do it risk becoming victims of companies that do. As a result, the number of lobbyists, lobbying money, and costs of running political campaigns, have all been growing astronomically over the last thirty years, transforming Washington into a central pivot to decide which industry initiatives succeed, and which ones fail. This phenomenon is shared among all major political centers of the world. "Supercapitalism" is a global phenomenon. That's all for useful insights for me from the book. Even the above insight was painfully drawn out and redundant in presentation. The author seemed to have romanticized the age of labor unions, oligopolies, and consumer restraint, especially touting the security of jobs before the 1970s (especially if you were part of the privileged unionized minority). At the same time, he was obsessed with motive -- admitting that good outcomes could come from the pursuit of profits, but that they cannot be considered altruistic because they are not driven by social conscience, but economically driven. He claims that that is not enough and too unstable. By the time he proposed his solution in the last few pages, he had lost me -- but I think it was some kind of elaborate campaign finance reform. I personally think that labor unions or corporations or any organized body driving politics for their benefit is unfortunate for the victims of the unequal playing field and stagnation that results. To me a real solution is to diminish government's role as a giver of power and money. Of course this is unrealistic, so I think limiting the flow of money to government might be beneficial as the money could be used for more productive means than bribery, and might be amenable to corporations that wish to stop the escalation of costs into lobbying, so long as they could be assured that their competitors would be refrain from such actions as well.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    Robert Reich's Supercapitalism is a must-read for anyone hoping to make a positive difference in today's world. Using accessible prose and familiar examples, Reich portrays the economic and political world we live in and the nature of our agency in it. Along the way, he critiques common but misleading explanations of how economic activity and social goals relate to each other. I'm aware that my academic background in economics and business helped me to read this book quickly and enhanced my enjo Robert Reich's Supercapitalism is a must-read for anyone hoping to make a positive difference in today's world. Using accessible prose and familiar examples, Reich portrays the economic and political world we live in and the nature of our agency in it. Along the way, he critiques common but misleading explanations of how economic activity and social goals relate to each other. I'm aware that my academic background in economics and business helped me to read this book quickly and enhanced my enjoyment of it. But I believe that anyone interested in understanding American economic and political life – and especially those who have experienced as adults the profound changes that began in the 1970s – will be drawn into and engaged by this book. Reich's basic argument is that since the 1970s, competition has intensified throughout the economy. Before then, each of the major sectors of America's economy were dominated by a few large firms capable of setting the price of their products high enough to provide acceptable returns to shareholders and good compensation to labor. The iconic firm then was General Motors. Now the iconic firm is WalMart. Instead of firms owning factories, factories compete for firms' production contracts. It is no longer the production system, but the distribution system, that has the power. The pressure that consumers and investors apply to get better deals is felt throughout a production system less able to resist it. Consumers, investors, and components of the production system are likely to abandon their relationships for a better deal and are unlikely to enter into lasting commitments. This way of being in the world spills over into politics and everyday life, and hampers our ability as citizens in a democracy to pursue and achieve social goals and public goods. To remedy this, Reich recommends: setting legal limits on how good a deal consumers and investors can get; ceasing to treat corporations as if they were people (stop granting them the legal rights that people have and deny them a role in the legislative process); tax all corporate income as the personal income of shareholders; and focus public policy on making Americans, not American corporations, more competitive. The last chapter of the book is "A Citizen's Guide To Supercapitalism" which summarizes Reich's argument and recommendations. It is a useful aid for sorting out, for example, what the 2008 presidential candidates are saying as (at this writing) the first primaries approach. For a generation, our politics has been dominated by a misguided ideology that worships a magical "free market" capitalism and denigrates the government's legitimate economic role as "interference." By focusing on the personal experience each of us has of being on the one hand consumers and investors, and on the other hand citizens, Reich puts government's role back in its proper perspective and equips us to exercise our power as citizens and pursue a shared vision of a good society and a better world.

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