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Book briefs. Political economy of the future

The Zero-Sum Solution: Building a World-Class American Economy, by Lester C. Thurow. New York: Simon & Schuster. 414 pp. $18.95. In ``The Zero-Sum Society'' (1980), Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Thurow argued that the US faces a set of problems whose solutions require significant short-term economic losses in order to reap long-term benefits. In this sequel, Thurow states that the Reagan administration's painless path (foreign borrowing via an overvalued dollar) to fuel a noncompetitive economy and maintain a fa,ade of prosperity -- has not worked. The US, having lost its dominance in the world economy, needs to regain competitiveness. Thurow argues that this goal requires: upgrading education; giving workers more of a stake in the raising of productivity; revamping the US corporation; refashioning industrial policy as a vehicle for achieving consensus among government, industry, and labor interests; promoting savings and investment; restricting consumer credit; cutting the military budget; and instituting new taxes, including a value-added tax and an extra $1-per-gallon gasoline tax. Work, Unemployment and the New Technology, by Colin Gill. New York: Polity Press/Basil Blackwell. 204 pp. $24.95 cloth, $9.95 paper.

The US seems to be the least alarmed of all countries about the impact of new technologies on work. It is widely held here that new jobs will be created to take the place of those erased by high-tech. The outlook elsewhere is not so sanguine. Gill, a lecturer in industrial relations at Cambridge, offers a clear explanation for how modern societies are being quietly and pervasively altered by powerful technological changes that are still in their early stages. Gill sees several likely trends ahead: shorter working lives and more part-time and at-home jobs, more self-employment and short-term contracts, increased demand for adult education, fewer earners and more dependents, smaller and weaker trade unions, and more emphasis on the economy at the home and community levels. Another excellent overview of this subject is available in the Australian best seller, ``Sleepers, Wake! Technology and the Future of Work,'' (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982, $9.95 in paper). Author Barry Jones, Australia's minister for science, offers 10 pages of proposals for enhancing the quality of life in a ``post-service society.'' Future Work: Jobs, Self-Employment and Leisure After the Industrial Age, by James Robertson. New York: Universe Books. 220 pp. $17.50.

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A British futurist takes the position (similar to Gill's, above) that the days of full employment are behind us. Robertson advocates a ``sane, humane, ecological society,'' in which work is redefined to include many forms of useful activity in addition to paid employment. In such a society, paid and unpaid work would be shared more equally among men and women; small-scale technologies would be developed to enable people to do more for themselves; education would focus on teaching people life, rather than vocational, skills; efforts to stimulate economic growth would be focused at the local, instead of the national, level; and ``ownwork'' (the paid or unpaid jobs that people control for themselves) would become the norm. Indeed, Robertson sees the expansion of ``ownwork'' as necessary to ensuring both employment and leisure, an internationally competitive economy, and an adequate level of welfare assistance. Women: A World Report, by New Internationalist. New York: Oxford University Press. 376 pp. $18.95.

The New Internationalist Cooperative in Oxford was asked by the United Nations to prepare this report in conjunction with the 1985 Nairobi conference last July that ended the UN Decade for Women. In Part I, author Debbie Taylor integrates data from a major global research effort into well-written chapters on family, agricultural and industrial work, health, sex, education, and politics. The basic problems are those of rising rates of migration, divorce, separation, and illegitimacy worldwide, combined with a growing necessity for women to work outside the home. These, of course, aggravate the traditional assumption that women must do all of the unpaid work inside the home. Part II, ``Women to Women,'' contains the personal reports by 10 women writers (including Angela Davis, Marilyn French, and Germaine Greer) -- five of them from poor countries visiting rich countries, and five rich countries visiting poor countries. An illuminating volume, with a nice balance between socioeconomic data and insightful journalism.

Michael Marien is editor of Future Survey, a monthly published by the World Future Society in Bethesda, Md.

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