Going the Reich way in new book
Robert Reich offers ideas for 'Future of Success'
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Hearing some observers talk about the New Economy and the Internet boom, one might think the 1990s were a roaring wave of good times.
But former labor secretary Robert Reich, who served for the Clinton administration during the heart of the 1990s, says the decade of economic growth and new technology wasn't all good. Something was left in the dust of so many URLs and IPOs.
"It is harder to achieve a balanced life in the year 2001 than it was in the year 1991," Reich says. "Ten years of a very solid economy and good economic growth have also created an economy that is more stressful."
Along with bigger paychecks, better cell phones and the advent of e-mail, we work harder and longer, says Reich. And the lack of balance is taking its toll on our personal lives.
"Each of us assumes that it's our own fault," he says. "We fret that we are inadequate workers or inadequate parents or partners or spouses or members of communities. But we have to understand that we're not alone and there are reasons for these feelings that have to do with the way the economy has evolved."
'I had no time'
Reich knows this because he has been there. As labor secretary from 1993 to 1997, Reich put in 18-hour days during the workweek, eight-hour days on the weekend.
"Even when I came home I had an entire briefing book of material to prepare for the next day," he says. "So I didn't have much time. In fact, I had no time."
No time, in particular, for his family, which includes his wife and two growing sons. So Reich jumped out of the rat race, stepping down from his position in 1997 to spend more time with his family.
Now, he's a professor at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. The new job has allowed him the time to watch his boys grow -- one is 19, the other 16 -- and he's had the chance to gain perspective on a capitalist system that rewards workers for the time they spend away from their loved ones.
The very narrow notion
His thoughts are organized in a new hardcover called "The Future of Success" (Knopf). Reich offers a clean outline of the economy as he sees it, with all its dizzying choices, promises, and recent failures. He also points to the direction it's headed, and ways to improve it.
Detailing the ideas he observes in his own life, Reich stresses a family-values theme in creating a happy balance between work and leisure. He doesn't frown on success, just the methods we use to determine who is successful and who is not.
"That's at the bottom line of what I'm urging on people," he says, "that we get out of the very narrow notion that success is a matter of net worth. Success is a much subtler issue for all of us, or it should be. It's how fully we lead our lives, in all dimensions."
The next decade, says Reich, will see a vast improvement in the way we treat work and it treats us.
"Employers have to understand that if they want to attract and keep good people, they've got to treat those people as whole people who have lives outside work," he says. "They've got to respect those lives in their entirety. They can't treat employees as costs of doing business. They have to understand that they're critical, valuable assets and those assets have to be nurtured in every way."
'It's just not worth it'
If employers don't do this, something's going to give, Reich says.
"We can't go in the direction we've been going because frankly a lot of people are getting burned out," he says. "Young people in their 20s and 30s are saying it's just not worth it."
Anyone who's been to Europe has come back swearing by the afternoon siesta. Is this what Reich thinks the economy and its overworked workers need?
"It is interesting to note that the average standard of living in Europe is not quite as high as us," he says. "But they also have health insurance, they also have mandated five-week vacations, even if you're a McDonald's worker.
"They also have subsidies for childcare. They have family allowances. If you get sick or have a medical emergency you get time off with pay. We will not and should not try to be just like Europe, but I think we will try to soften some of the harder edges of the new economy," he says.
A stake in capitalism
"The Future of Success" offers Reich the chance to propose a number of suggestions, some that will meet strong resistance. He readily admits that some of his ideas irk liberals, while others rub conservatives the wrong way.
For instance, he's come up with a way to grant a $60,000 nest egg to high school graduates, a sort of monetary gift that can be used to invest in school, the stock market, or a spanking new sports car. Naturally, conservatives scoff at the idea. But Reich doesn't back down.
"I think that conservatives may fail to understand the importance of giving young people a stake in capitalism, to get on the upward escalator with regard to education and asset ownership," he says.
Ultimately, Reich believes we're operating our new economy under old-guard rules. Change is needed.
"We are in a very different economy," he says. "There is no job security, women are at work, men and women in the same family are at work. Most young children have parents that are at work.
"There are a number of public policies that have to be changed," he says.
Reich says readers of "The Future of Success" don't have to agree with his ideas. He just wants them to see this new millennium of economic growth in a different way.
"I wrote the book to be accessible," he says. "It's not simple; it's written on the level of an intelligent reader. But I want people to be able to understand what is happening to the economy and why.
"I want people to see that their own jobs and the future of their work is very much tied in to their ability to function during the rest of their lives," he says. "All of this is under their control to some extent. We have more power than we think we do. We do not have to be passive recipients of this new economy."
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