Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism

The New York Times
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September 15, 2007

Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism

One of the most influential business books ever written is a 1,200-page novel published 50 years ago, on Oct. 12, 1957. It is still drawing readers; it ranks 388th on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. (“Winning,” by John F. Welch Jr., at a breezy 384 pages, is No. 1,431.)

The book is “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest.

For years, Rand’s message was attacked by intellectuals whom her circle labeled “do-gooders,” who argued that individuals should also work in the service of others. Her book was dismissed as an homage to greed. Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.”

But the book attracted a coterie of fans, some of them top corporate executives, who dared not speak of its impact except in private. When they read the book, often as college students, they now say, it gave form and substance to their inchoate thoughts, showing there is no conflict between private ambition and public benefit.

“I know from talking to a lot of Fortune 500 C.E.O.’s that ‘Atlas Shrugged’ has had a significant effect on their business decisions, even if they don’t agree with all of Ayn Rand’s ideas,” said John A. Allison, the chief executive of BB&T, one of the largest banks in the United States.

“It offers something other books don’t: the principles that apply to business and to life in general. I would call it complete,” he said.

One of Rand’s most famous devotees is Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, whose memoir, “The Age of Turbulence,” will be officially released Monday.

Mr. Greenspan met Rand when he was 25 and working as an economic forecaster. She was already renowned as the author of “The Fountainhead,” a novel about an architect true to his principles. Mr. Greenspan had married a member of Rand’s inner circle, known as the Collective, that met every Saturday night in her New York apartment. Rand did not pay much attention to Mr. Greenspan until he began praising drafts of “Atlas,” which she read aloud to her disciples, according to Jeff Britting, the archivist of Ayn Rand’s papers. He was attracted, Mr. Britting said, to “her moral defense of capitalism.”

Rand’s free-market philosophy was hard won. She was born in 1905 in Russia. Her life changed overnight when the Bolsheviks broke into her father’s pharmacy and declared his livelihood the property of the state. She fled the Soviet Union in 1926 and arrived later that year in Hollywood, where she peered through a gate at the set where the director Cecil B. DeMille was filming a silent movie, “King of Kings.”

He offered her a ride to the set, then a job as an extra on the film and later a position as a junior screenwriter. She sold several screenplays and intermittently wrote novels that were commercial failures, until 1943, when fans of “The Fountainhead” began a word-of-mouth campaign that helped sales immensely.

Shortly after “Atlas Shrugged” was published in 1957, Mr. Greenspan wrote a letter to The New York Times to counter a critic’s comment that “the book was written out of hate.” Mr. Greenspan wrote: “ ‘Atlas Shrugged’ is a celebration of life and happiness. Justice is unrelenting. Creative individuals and undeviating purpose and rationality achieve joy and fulfillment. Parasites who persistently avoid either purpose or reason perish as they should.”

Rand’s magazine, The Objectivist, later published several essays by Mr. Greenspan, including one on the gold standard in 1966.

Rand called “Atlas” a mystery, “not about the murder of man’s body, but about the murder — and rebirth — of man’s spirit.” It begins in a time of recession. To save the economy, the hero, John Galt, calls for a strike against government interference. Factories, farms and shops shut down. Riots break out as food becomes scarce.

Rand said she “set out to show how desperately the world needs prime movers and how viciously it treats them” and to portray “what happens to a world without them.”

The book was released to terrible reviews. Critics faulted its length, its philosophy and its literary ambitions. Both conservatives and liberals were unstinting in disparaging the book; the right saw promotion of godlessness, and the left saw a message of “greed is good.” Rand is said to have cried every day as the reviews came out.

Rand had a reputation for living for her own interest. She is said to have seduced her most serious reader, Nathaniel Branden, when he was 24 or 25 and she was at least 50. Each was married to someone else. In fact, Mr. Britting confirmed, they called their spouses to a meeting at which the pair announced their intention to make the mentor-protégé relationship a sexual one.

“She wasn’t a nice person, ” said Darla Moore, vice president of the private investment firm Rainwater Inc. “But what a gift she’s given us.”

Ms. Moore, a benefactor of the University of South Carolina, spoke of her debt to Rand in 1998, when the business school at the university was named in Ms. Moore’s honor. “As a woman and a Southerner,” she said, “I thrived on Rand’s message that only quality work counted, not who you are.”

Rand’s idea of “the virtue of selfishness,” Ms. Moore said, “is a harsh phrase for the Buddhist idea that you have to take care of yourself.”

Some business leaders might be unsettled by the idea that the only thing members of the leadership class have in common is their success. James M. Kilts, who led turnarounds at Gillette, Nabisco and Kraft, said he encountered “Atlas” at “a time in college life when everybody was a nihilist, anti-establishment, and a collectivist.” He found her writing reassuring because it made success seem rational.

“Rand believed that there is right and wrong,” he said, “that excellence should be your goal.”

John P. Stack is one business executive who has taken Rand’s ideas to heart. He was chief executive of Springfield Remanufacturing Company, a retooler of tractor engines in Springfield, Mo., when its parent company, International Harvester, divested itself of the firm in the recession of 1982, the year Rand died.

Having lost his sole customer in a struggling Rust Belt city, Mr. Stack says, he took action like a hero out of “Atlas.” He created an “open book” company in which employees were transparently working in their own interest.

Mr. Stack says that he assigned every job a bottom line value and that every salary, including his own, was posted on a company ticker daily. Workplaces, he said, are notoriously undemocratic, emotionally charged and political.

Mr. Stack says his free market replaced all that with rational behavior. A machinist knew exactly what his working hour contributed to the bottom line, and therefore the cost of slacking off. This, Mr. Stack said, was a manifestation of the philosophy of objectivism in “Atlas”: people guided by reason and self-interest.

“There is something in your inner self that Rand draws out,” Mr. Stack said. “You want to be a hero, you want to be right, but by the same token you have to question yourself, though you must not listen to interference thrown at you by the distracters. The lawyers told me not to open the books and share equity.” He said he defied them. “ ‘Atlas’ helped me pursue this idiot dream that became SRC.”

Mr. Stack said he was 19 and working in a factory when a manager gave him a copy of the book. “It’s the best business book I ever read,” he said. “I didn’t do well in school because I was a big dreamer. To get something that tells you to take your dreams seriously, that’s an eye opener.”

Mr. Stack said he gave a copy to his son, Tim Stack, 25, who was so inspired that he went to work for a railroad, just like the novel’s heroine, Dagny Taggart.

Every year, 400,000 copies of Rand’s novels are offered free to Advanced Placement high school programs. They are paid for by the Ayn Rand Institute, whose director, Yaron Brook, said the mission was “to keep Rand alive.”

Last year, bookstores sold 150,000 copies of the book. It continues to hold appeal, even to a younger generation. Mark Cuban, the owner of the Dallas Mavericks, who was born in 1958, and John P. Mackey, the chief executive of Whole Foods, who was 3 when the book was published, have said they consider Rand crucial to their success.

The book’s hero, John Galt, also continues to live on. The subcontractor hired to demolish the former Deutsche Bank building, which was damaged when the World Trade Center towers fell, was the John Galt Corporation. It was removed from the job last month after a fire at the building killed two firefighters.

In Chicago, there is John Galt Solutions, a producer of software for supply chain companies like Tastykake. The founder and chief executive of the company, Annemarie Omrod, said she considered the character an inspiration.

“We were reading the book,” she said, when she and Kai Trepte were thinking of starting the company. “For us, the book symbolized the importance of growing yourself and bettering yourself without hindering other people. John Galt took all the great minds and started a new society.

“Some of our customers don’t know the name, though after they meet us, they want to read the book,” she went on. “Our sales reps have a problem, however. New clients usually ask: ‘Hey, where is John Galt? How come I’m not important enough to rate a visit from John Galt?’ ”








Ayn Rand’s Literature of Capitalism
One of the most influential business books ever written is a 1,200-page novel published 50 years ago, on Oct. 12, 1957. It is still drawing readers; it ranks 388th on Amazon.com’s best-seller list. (“Winning,” by John F. Welch Jr., at a breezy 384 pages, is No. 1,431.)
The book is “Atlas Shrugged,” Ayn Rand’s glorification of the right of individuals to live entirely for their own interest.
For years, Rand’s message was attacked by intellectuals whom her circle labeled “do-gooders,” who argued that individuals should also work in the service of others. Her book was dismissed as an homage to greed. Gore Vidal described its philosophy as “nearly perfect in its immorality.”
One of Rand’s most famous devotees is Alan Greenspan, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, whose memoir, “The Age of Turbulence,” will be officially released Monday.
Mr. Greenspan met Rand when he was 25 and working as an economic forecaster.
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Fed’s Ex-Chief Attacks Bush on Fiscal Role

The New York Times
September 15, 2007
Fed’s Ex-Chief Attacks Bush on Fiscal Role
By EDMUND L. ANDREWS and DAVID E. SANGER

WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 — Alan Greenspan, who was chairman of the Federal Reserve for nearly two decades, in a long-awaited memoir, is harshly critical of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Republican-controlled Congress, as abandoning their party’s principles on spending and deficits.

In the 500-page book, “The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World,” Mr. Greenspan describes the Bush administration as so captive to its own political operation that it paid little attention to fiscal discipline, and he described Mr. Bush’s first two Treasury secretaries, Paul H. O’Neill and John W. Snow, as essentially powerless.

Mr. Bush, he writes, was never willing to contain spending or veto bills that drove the country into deeper and deeper deficits, as Congress abandoned rules that required that the cost of tax cuts be offset by savings elsewhere. “The Republicans in Congress lost their way,” writes Mr. Greenspan, a self-described “libertarian Republican.”

“They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose” in the 2006 election, when they lost control of the House and Senate.

As officials leave the Bush administration, there is no shortage of criticism of this White House: Disenchanted hawks are writing that Mr. Bush has abandoned the certainties of the first term and taken too soft a line on North Korea and Iran; from the other side of the spectrum, former officials are telling tales about how the administration bent rules on torture or domestic spying.

But Mr. Greenspan, now 81, is in a different class, by dint of his fame, his economic authority and his service across party lines. His critiques are likely to have more resonance among Mr. Bush’s base.

His book was provided to The New York Times by his publisher, Penguin Press, under an agreement that nothing would be reported until its publication date, on Monday. But The Wall Street Journal, saying it had purchased a copy from a retailer, published excerpts on its Web site on Friday night, freeing other news organizations to do the same.

Much of the book concerns Mr. Greenspan’s reflections on markets, globalization and the media’s fascination with the thickness of his briefcase on the way to meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee, which sets interest rates.

He praises President Bush for letting the Fed stay independent of political pressure, saying he was scrupulous in not trying to interfere with monetary policy — which he contrasts sharply with the pressure exerted by his father, George H. W. Bush, in the early 1990s. For years, the first President Bush has blamed Mr. Greenspan for contributing to his defeat in 1992 by failing to prevent a recession by cutting interest rates.

Of the presidents he worked with, Mr. Greenspan reserves his highest praise for Bill Clinton, whom he described in his book as a sponge for economic data who maintained “a consistent, disciplined focus on long-term economic growth.”

It was a presidency marred by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, he writes, but he fondly describes his alliance with two of Mr. Clinton’s Treasury secretaries, Robert E. Rubin and Lawrence H. Summers, in battling financial crises in Latin America and then Asia.

By contrast, Mr. Greenspan paints a picture of Mr. Bush as a man driven more by ideology and the desire to fulfill campaign promises made in 2000, incurious about the effects of his economic policy, and an administration incapable of executing policy.

The White House is clearly not eager to get into a public argument with Mr. Greenspan, whom President Bush reappointed to a fifth term in May 2004. But they pushed back at Mr. Greenspan’s central themes.

“The Republican leadership in the House and Senate kept to our top number,” Tony Fratto, a White House spokesman, said. Veto threats worked, he said, to keep spending within caps set by the White House. “We’re not going to apologize for standing up the Department of Homeland Security and fighting terror.”

Mr. Greenspan described his own emotional journey in dealing with Mr. Bush, from an initial elation about the return of his old friends from the Ford White House — including Mr. Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld, secretary of defense — to astonishment and then disappointment at how much they had changed.

“I indulged in a bit of fantasy, envisioning this as the government that might have existed had Gerald Ford garnered the extra 1 percent of the vote he’d needed to edge past Jimmy Carter,” Mr. Greenspan writes in his memoir. “I thought we had a golden opportunity to advance the ideals of effective, fiscally conservative government and free markets.”

Instead, Mr. Greenspan continued, “I was soon to see my old friends veer off in unexpected directions.” He expected Mr. Bush to veto spending bills, he writes, but was told that the president believed he could control J. Dennis Hastert of Illinois, the Republican speaker of the House, better by signing them.

“My friend,” he writes of Mr. O’Neill, “soon found himself to be the odd man out; much to my disappointment, economic policymaking in the Bush administration remained firmly in the hands of the White House staff.”

He was clearly referring to the political team led by Karl Rove at the White House. Mr. Rove was a neighbor of Mr. Greenspan in a leafy enclave near the Potomac River, but the two men almost never had a conversation.

In responding to Mr. Greenspan, Mr. Fratto of the White House disputed the accusation that Mr. O’Neill’s economic arguments were ignored. “Just because you don’t carry the day doesn’t mean your views weren’t considered,” Mr. Fratto said.

Though Mr. Greenspan does not admit he made a mistake, he shows remorse about how Republicans jumped on his endorsement of the 2001 tax cuts to push through unconditional cuts without any safeguards against surprises. He recounts how Mr. Rubin and Senator Kent Conrad, Democrat of North Dakota, begged him to hold off on an endorsement because of how it would be perceived.

“It turned out that Conrad and Rubin were right,” he acknowledges glumly. He says Republican leaders in Congress made a grievous error in spending whatever it took to ensure a permanent Republican majority.

Mr. Greenspan has critics as well, and they are likely to weigh in as soon as the book is published. Though he publicly disagreed with Mr. Bush’s supply-side approach to tax cuts, urging Congress to offset the cost with savings elsewhere, he refrained from public criticism that could have shifted the debate. His willingness to criticize now, 18 months after leaving office, may open him to the accusation of failing to speak out when it could have affected policy.

Today, Mr. Greenspan is indignant and chagrined about his role in the Bush tax cuts. “I’d have given the same testimony if Al Gore had been president,” he writes, complaining that his words had been distorted by supporters and opponents of the cuts.

Mr. Greenspan, of course, had been the ultimate Washington insider for years, and knew full well that politicians cited his words selectively to suit their agendas. He was also legendary for ducking delicate issues by, as he once said, “mumbling with great incoherence.”

Mr. Greenspan’s memoir describes at some length the monetary policies that many economists say fostered the extraordinary economic boom of the 1990s. In what is widely regarded as a brilliant insight, Mr. Greenspan became convinced the United States could grow faster than generally thought because productivity was climbing much faster than the official statistics implied.

Mr. Greenspan writes briefly about what may become a more troubling legacy, the housing bubble, and now the bust, that was fueled by low interest rates and risky mortgages in the last six years.

Some economists argue that Mr. Greenspan deserves considerable blame, because the Fed slashed interest rates to rock-bottom lows and kept them there for three years after the stock market collapse and the recession in 2001.

The Fed was “a prime culprit in creating the crisis,” wrote Steve Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine, in a just-published commentary. But other economists, including critics of Mr. Greenspan, say the housing bubble resulted from much broader forces, including a dramatic drop of interest rates around the world and an explosion of mortgages that required no money down, no income verification and deceptively low initial teaser rates.

Mr. Greenspan generically defends the Fed’s action, writing: “I believed then, as now, that the benefits of broadened home ownership are worth the risk. Protection of property rights, so critical to a market economy, requires a critical mass of owners to sustain political support.”

The book appears in stores on Monday, the day before the Fed is expected to lower interest rates in an effort to prevent the collapsing housing market from taking the rest of the economy down with it.
clipped from www.nytimes.com

Fed’s Ex-Chief Attacks Bush on Fiscal Role
WASHINGTON, Sept. 14 — Alan Greenspan, who was chairman of the Federal Reserve for nearly two decades, in a long-awaited memoir, is harshly critical of President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and the Republican-controlled Congress, as abandoning their party’s principles on spending and deficits.
Mr. Greenspan describes the Bush administration as so captive to its own political operation that it paid little attention to fiscal discipline, and he described Mr. Bush’s first two Treasury secretaries, Paul H. O’Neill and John W. Snow, as essentially powerless.
“They swapped principle for power. They ended up with neither. They deserved to lose” in the 2006 election, when they lost control of the House and Senate.
Of the presidents he worked with, Mr. Greenspan reserves his highest praise for Bill Clinton, whom he described in his book as a sponge for economic data who maintained “a consistent, disciplined focus on long-term economic growth.”
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Saturday, September 08, 2007

The Note That Makes Us Weep

The New York Times
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September 9, 2007
High C

The Note That Makes Us Weep

A PUBLICIST long ago gave Luciano Pavarotti the sobriquet King of the High C’s, for his remarkable ability to hit and sing the heck out of one of the highest notes of the tenor voice. The tag followed Mr. Pavarotti, who died last week, into most of his obituaries.

His voice, especially earlier in his career, was remarkable across its range. But that little note, an octave above middle C on the piano, played a role in projecting Mr. Pavarotti’s fame around the world. That is no surprise. The tenor high C has a long and noble tradition, and a healthy dose of mystique.

“It’s the absolute summit of technique,” said Craig Rutenberg, the Metropolitan Opera’s director of musical administration — in effect, its chief vocal coach. “More than anywhere else in your voice, you have to know what you’re doing. To me it signals a self-confidence in the singer that lets him communicate to us that he knows what he’s doing and he has something very important to express with that note.”

Tenor high C’s are scattered throughout the opera literature. Sometimes tenors transpose the aria down slightly or drop an octave, other times they fake it and edge into falsetto voice, where it is easier to sing. Just as often, they hit it, and hold it, and that moment is one of the most exciting in an opera house. It is moments like those when opera, in addition to the aesthetic joys and emotional satisfactions, can seem like a spectator sport or a circus high-wire act. They’re times when opera audiences cheer or jeer.

But the high C has a more visceral, spine-tingling lure.

“The reason it’s so exciting to people is, it’s based on the human cry,” said Maitland Peters, chairman of the voice department at the Manhattan School of Music. “It’s instinctual. It’s like a baby. You’re pulled into it.” When a tenor sings a ringing high C, it seems, “there’s nothing in his way,” Mr. Peters said.

The pitch, in itself, has a satisfying quality. The key of C major, after all, is a stable, cheerful, happy key, the one with no sharps or flats.

Fascination may also derive from the fact that high tenor notes are somewhat freakish. Women have high voices, and men have low voices. For a male to sing that high with such power somehow seems unnatural.

With one important exception: through the 18th century, the most celebrated singers were castrati, boys altered before puberty who grew into men with powerful high voices. Un-altered tenors rarely got higher than an A without singing falsetto. Many of their roles were decidedly unheroic, like the slightly wimpy Don Ottavio in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni.” But the style was one of grace and agility.

Then, with the rise of Romanticism and a taste for bolder singing — and perhaps a distaste for gelding — the modern tenor voice was born. The first notable tenor to hit a modern high C was the Frenchman Gilbert-Louis Duprez. He sang the note not with a falsetto but with a chest voice, at the first performance of Rossini’s “Guillaume Tell,” in 1831. Rossini was not pleased. The sound, he said, was like “the squawk of a capon with its throat cut.”

But there was no turning back, especially with the heroic tenor voices demanded by Wagnerian opera.

In the mid-20th century, Alfredo Kraus, Franco Corelli and Jussi Bjoerling had great high C’s. Curiously, Enrico Caruso, arguably the greatest opera celebrity, had a weak one and had to work hard to develop his top. Plácido Domingo, who extended his voice up from the baritone range and who is widely admired for his musicianship and artistry, is also not known for pinging high C’s. An unkind joke among singers has him dubbed “Mingo.” “Where’s the ‘Do?’ ” someone is asked. “He doesn’t have one,” goes the answer, “do” being the singing syllable for C.

Mr. Pavarotti won his place in the pantheon of high C’s with a run of Donizetti’s “Fille du Régiment” in the 1972-1973 season at the Met. The aria “Pour mon âme” calls for nine of them in a row, and Mr. Pavarotti tossed them off brilliantly. In 1995, it was a different story. Singing the same aria, he transposed the notes down, missed the first and eventually left the stage for his understudy to take over.

Being able to hit the note consistently, in the context of a moving line and with a ringing, beautiful sound, requires talent, but also technique.

Mr. Peters, of the Manhattan School, said the chest voice, the strongest source of sound, and the head voice, where the sound vibrates in the head’s cavities, must be perfectly balanced. The base of the tongue, the jaw, the larynx must all lie in just the right position, unrestricted by tension.

Mr. Pavarotti once described the feeling this way: “Excited and happy, but with a strong undercurrent of fear. The moment I actually hit the note, I almost lose consciousness. A physical, animal sensation seizes me. Then I regain control.”

The tenor Juan Diego Flórez, also acclaimed for his top, will sing “Fille” at the Met in April. He said in an interview on Thursday that he imagines a keyboard in his head, and reaches for the note there.

“You think very high,” he said. “You give a lot of space in your throat.” Mr. Flórez said that as he is heading for the high C’s in “Fille,” he feels the adrenaline flow. “It has to sound very spontaneous and happy,” he said. “You have to hit them without effort. But that’s the acting. You’re concentrating on making those notes sound great.”

When he feels them vibrating correctly in his head, the pleasure is deep. “The public can feel that,” he said.

Sometimes, a pleasure it ain’t. Adolphe Nourrit was the reigning tenor in Paris until Duprez came along with that new-fangled C. Nourrit struggled to keep up with his younger rival, but could not muster the note. That fact, it was said, helped lead him to suicide.

Quite possibly a case of death on the high C’s.

clipped from www.nytimes.com

The Note That Makes Us Weep


THE THRILLS, THE CHILLS, THE HIGH C Pavarotti knew his way to the note.

Published: September 9, 2007

A PUBLICIST long ago gave Luciano Pavarotti the sobriquet King of the High C’s, for his remarkable ability to hit and sing the heck out of one of the highest notes of the tenor voice. The tag followed Mr. Pavarotti, who died last week, into most of his obituaries.

His voice, especially earlier in his career, was remarkable across its range. But that little note, an octave above middle C on the piano, played a role in projecting Mr. Pavarotti’s fame around the world. That is no surprise. The tenor high C has a long and noble tradition, and a healthy dose of mystique.

Mr. Pavarotti once described the feeling this way: “Excited and happy, but with a strong undercurrent of fear. The moment I actually hit the note, I almost lose consciousness. A physical, animal sensation seizes me. Then I regain control.”

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Anxious About Tomorrow

Full post from NYTimes.
The New York Times
September 1, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

Anxious About Tomorrow
By BOB HERBERT

You know you’ve stepped into a different universe when you hear a major American labor leader saying matter-of-factly that employer-based health insurance and employer-based pensions are relics of a bygone industrial economy.

Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union, which has 1.9 million members and is the fastest-growing union in the country, is not your ordinary union leader. With Labor Day approaching, he was reflecting on some of the challenges facing workers in a post-20th-century globalized economy.

“I just don’t think that as a country we’ve conceptualized that this is not our father’s or our grandfather’s economy,” Mr. Stern said in an interview. “We’re going through profound change and we have no plan.”

The feeling that seems to override all others for workers is anxiety. American families, already saddled with enormous debt, are trying to make it in an environment in which employment is becoming increasingly contingent and subject to worldwide competition. Health insurance, unaffordable for millions, is a huge problem. And guaranteed pensions are going the way of typewriter ribbons and carbon paper.

“We’re ending defined benefit pensions in front of our eyes,” said Mr. Stern. “I’d say today’s retirement plan for young workers is: ‘I’m going to work until I die.’ ”

The result of all of this — along with such problems as the mortgage and housing crisis, and a domestic economy that is doing nothing to improve living standards for ordinary Americans — is fear.

“Workers are incredibly, legitimately scared that the American dream, particularly the belief that their kids will do better, is ending,” said Mr. Stern. He is trying to get across the idea that in a period of such profound change, the old templates, the traditional ideas and policies of even the most progressive thinkers and officeholders, will not be sufficient to meet the new challenges.

“We can’t be the only country on earth that asks our employers to put the price of health care on its products when a lot of our competitors don’t,” he said. “And job security? Even if you want to stay with your employer, as in the old economic model, we’re seeing in many industries that your employer is not going to be around to stay with you.”

A comprehensive new approach is needed, but what should that approach be? Franklin Roosevelt always hoped to inject a measure of economic security into the lives of ordinary Americans. But the New Deal was seven decades ago. Workers are insecure now for a host of different reasons and Mr. Stern wants the labor movement to be part of a vast cooperative effort to develop the solutions appropriate to today’s environment.

He told me, “I’d like to say to the Democrats that we are as far today from the New Deal as the New Deal was from the Civil War.”

He wants more people to pay attention to the big issues that affect not just union workers but all working families: How do you bring health care to all? What do you do about retirement security? How will the jobs of the 21st century be created?

And what about schools, energy, global warming, the environment?

Mr. Stern tends to see the nation as a team and wants the team to pull together to develop a creative vision of what the U.S. should be about in the 21st century. A cornerstone of that vision, he said, should be adherence to the “primary value” of rewarding work.

“We’re a team in the 21st-century period of rapid change and competition,” he said. “And right now, we don’t have leadership, and we don’t have a plan. At the same time, a group of people are enriching themselves far beyond anything that’s reasonable.”

What he would like to see, he said, is a large group of thoughtful people from various walks of American life — business, labor, government, academia and so forth — convened to begin the serious work of cooperatively developing a real-world vision of a society that is fairer, healthier, better educated, better prepared to compete globally, and more economically secure.

“I think you’re already seeing the beginnings of odd formations of people who appreciate, issue by issue, that we have to do something different here,” he said.

The kind of effort Mr. Stern would like to see would logically be initiated at the highest levels of government, preferably the White House. But if that’s not in the cards, someone else should take up the challenge. And there should be a sense of urgency about it.

The fears of America’s workers are well founded. “There’s something wrong with the system right now,” said Mr. Stern, “and we can’t just say, ‘Well, it’s all going to work out.’ It’s not.”
clipped from select.nytimes.com

Anxious About Tomorrow

Published: September 1, 2007
employer-based health insurance and employer-based pensions are relics of a bygone industrial economy.
Andrew Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union,
“We’re going through profound change and we have no plan.”
American families, already saddled with enormous debt, are trying to make it in an environment in which employment is becoming increasingly contingent and subject to worldwide competition.
today’s retirement plan for young workers is: ‘I’m going to work until I die.’ ”
The result of all of this — along with such problems as the mortgage and housing crisis, and a domestic economy that is doing nothing to improve living standards for ordinary Americans — is fear.
Mr. Stern tends to see the nation as a team and wants the team to pull together to develop a creative vision of what the U.S. should be about in the 21st century.
“There’s something wrong with the system right now,”
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Native of the Philadelphia "Kensington and Alleganey" northeast area. I spent 4 years in the Air Force (Titan-II missles in Tuscon Arizona). I Am currently retired, and among other adventures I spent 28 years working for AT&T in Telecommunications. I've lived in Florida for 33 years....20 years in Hollywood Fla., and 13 years North Florida. I've been married 42 years, and am a proud father of three adult offspring. All of them contributing to society in a very useful and creative manner.