It may be hard to believe in an era of Walmart, Citizens United, and the Koch brothers, but corporations are on the decline. The number of American companies listed on the stock market dropped by half between 1996 and 2012. In recent years we've seen some of the most storied corporations go bankrupt (General Motors, Chrysler, Eastman Kodak) or disappear entirely (Bethlehem Steel, Lehman Brothers, Borders).
Gerald Davis argues this is a root cause of the income inequality and social instability we face today. Corporations were once an integral part of building the middle class. He points out that in their heyday, they offered millions of people lifetime employment, stable career paths, health insurance, and retirement pensions. They were like small, private welfare states.
The businesses that are replacing them will not fill the same role. For one thing, they employ far fewer people - the combined global workforces of Facebook, Yelp, Zynga, LinkedIn, Zillow, Tableau, Zulily, and Box are smaller than the number of people who lost their jobs when Circuit City was liquidated in 2009. And in the "sharing economy", companies have no obligation to most of the people who work for them - at the end of 2014 Uber had over 160,000 "driver-partners" in the United States but recognized only about 2,000 people as actual employees.
Davis tracks the rise of the large American corporation and the economic, social, and technological developments that have led to its decline. The future could see either increasing economic polarization, as careers turn into jobs and jobs turn into tasks, or a more democratic economy built from the grass roots. It's up to us.
©2016 Gerald F. Davis (P)2016 Gerald F. Davis
The best thing about Professor Davis' Vanishing American Corporation is his dedication to diagnosing the problems confronted by this phenomena but, most refreshingly, is his pursuit of relevant solutions and practical advice for today's college students and recent graduates. Professor Davis attempts to do what most authors do not - to examine a problem's past, predict consequences for the future, and to offer solutions to the problem that both confront and take advantage of non-obvious opportunities that will empower, rather than victimize, the labor force.
Part III: Consequences of Corporate Collapse. Professor Davis' examination of the relationship between the disappearance of the 20th century corporate form and the rise of the "sharing economy" to income inequality, social instability, and the increasing marginalization of the US labor force is a triumph of logic over passion.
Mr. Hoyt does an excellent job of bringing the author's voice to the narration. Instead of making this audiobook feel removed from its source or treating it as a sort of staid anthropological recounting of events (see, e.g., "Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry"), Mr. Hoyt's narration brings the story to life for the listener.
"How the fall of the traditional American corporation and the rise of the sharing economy threatens the marginalization of the US labor force, accelerates growing American inequality, and threatens the perpetuation of the American Dream".
Davis, a business school professor, has written a book whose content and conclusions resonate beyond the classroom and into the hearts and minds of every American. This book is as much prescriptive as it is academic and it deserves to be considered in conjunction with other works that seek to explain the increasing disillusionment of the average American with popular society and the money culture. It is best considered in the context of Thomas Picketty's "Capital in the 21st Century" and Lauren A. Rivera's "Pedigree: How Elite Students Get Elite Jobs" as a compendium to these earlier works.
The familiar publicly-traded corporation in the title is but one major piece in a puzzle shown with great clarity here, from history through the present, of the economic and social order in USA which has been the basic organizing, structural backbone of most people's lives and livelihoods. A little patience is rewarded in getting the background and context, delivered here in a magnificent, clear US business history walk-through: you will be pretty sophisticated on this history after a few hours. This is several books in one, all converging on the stresses and changes on these central organizers, institutional and legal, and, given the present disruptions (also masterfully described, with a nice tutorial on the critical language and concepts, e.g., "uberization" of former careers and jobs into "micro-entrepreneurial" piece-work tasks) where this is heading, for anyone wondering about "navigating the hazards of a new economy." This is of vital interest to the investor as much as the worker, the parent, the educator, etc. The author does not stop at describing and warning of pitfalls and worries; he comes up with positive views and possibilities in the emerging economy. Throughout, there is a refreshing lack of BS razzle-dazzle in one direction or another. For those who treat "corporate" as a swear-word, try another view: US income equality topped out in the heyday of giant corporations, 1968. But there is no misty-eyed nostalgia either: we are where we are. The bell cannot be un-rung. Many facile assumptions about these things and eras are gently shaken, with new views layered on, and well backed by data and studies, without ever being tedious. Many thumbs up!
I wish in this presidential election year (2016) the bungling, inarticulate sideshows of the candidacies and the masses' rage and fear contained more sober discussions along these lines, which get smartly to the real underlying issues, and the potential solutions, both collectively and individually.
This audiobook provides a summary of the 20th century way of doing business up until 2015. We all need to change but our career outlook because the mobile technology has shaken how we do business. Our society has gone from the corporation taking care of our health and retirement benefits to how we have to take care of ourselves. The once stable full time job has evolved to tasks on demand. Are you the innovator or the work bee? That will depend on you.
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