Re: _New York Times_ & the downsizing of America

Michael Cahill (MCBlueline@AOL.COM)
Tue, 5 Mar 1996 14:21:17 -0500

A couple of notes on the "downsizing" series.

First, the articles can be accessed via The New York Times on the Web at:; and via America Online: @times. This info
especially for Kris Zielinski.

Second, the _Times_ has made this series *interactive.* At AOL, readers can
click on an icon and record their own accounts of the impact of downsizing.
Those accessing the webpage can do so by e-mailing to:
This is a great idea. In fact, it has the *feel* of field research to me.
An excellent way to gather data. Anthropologists working the web might keep
it in mind. Does this look like the birth of a new technique, or is it
already being done elsewhere (whether by anthropologists or others)?
Comments, please.

Third, list members looking to set the _Times_ series in context might
consider the following articles, just recently published. (In some respects,
downsizing has the appearance of a breaking story, even though it's been an
issue for some time. The fact that it's implicated in the presidential race
undoubtedly boosts its profile.)

"The new, ruthless economy," by Simon Head. _The New York Review of Books_
February 29, 1996. Head has been a financial correspondent for major
business publications. He is also on the board of Job Ownership Limited,
which promotes employee ownership of businesses worldwide. The article
discusses major economic trends and the mechanics of downsizing (also called
"lean production" achieved by "reengineering"). The piece goes on to
consider the impact of these trends on the distribution of wealth in the US
and elsewhere in the developed world. The numbers are nicely summarized.
Head asks the question: will Americans "accept the harsh verdict of the
market and live with is social consequences -- the advent of the 'mean and
crabbed society' predicted three years ago by Robert Solow?" Hardly sanguine
about the outcome, Head nevertheless recommends efforts to improve the
situation for working people, including attempts at "codetermination" (e.g.,
worker-owned businesses).

"Where is Bill Bradley?" by Alan Ryan. _The New York Review of Books. March
21, 1996. (I'm plugging neither Bradley nor the NYRB, here. It just happens
that a) I read NYRB and b) the pieces in question are good ones and on topic.
Downsizing has also been discussed "on the other side" recently in the
_National Review_, the conservative journal. I just think the conservatives
are caught by the short hairs on this one. Their efforts at rebuttal are not
up to snuff so far, in my view.) I recommend Ryan because he provides a key
concept, a new one to me at least, for analyzing downsizing as a total social
phenomenon -- the idea of a "social audit." A social audit takes into
account *all* of the effects of downsizing, including its impact on families
and communities, as well as all of the help that corporations get from
communites and from government (e.g., supports, subsidies, and tax breaks).
The idea is for us to be fair with one another. (We're back to REAL
budgets.) Ryan concludes: "When we reach a situation in which the bottom *80
percent* -- not the underclass, but most of the population -- sees itself
struggling to make ends meet, sees no gain from increased productivity [e.g.,
technology replacing jobs -- my add], and sees an elite creaming off all the
benefits of a transformed economy, trouble looms." Ryan's claim about
Bradley: the former Senator believes that big business must keep its implicit
promise, honored for decades, that working hard and playing by the rules will
lead to prosperity and a measure of security. This is a social bottom line.

Fourth, The _Times_ story so far. I'll just provide the outline here, to
give the flavor.

3/3 The Downsizing of America
I. A national heartache
II. A portrait of the victims
III. Justifying the ax
IV. Adapting to new times
V. Guilt of the firing squads
Pop culture: Extremes but little reality

3/4 Part II: The Downsizing of America
I. In the workplace, musical chairs
II. A survivor's cynicism
III. Washed up at 29
IV. War stories
V. Watch your back

3/5 Part III: the Family: Big Holes Where the Dignity Used to be
I. In the family, the good life lost
II. What did I do today
III. Life's lessons
I. (sic?) More than money, they miss the pride
II. What can money buy?

Mike Cahill