*The Fissured Workplace*

That is a new and important book by David Weil and the subtitle is Why Work Became so Bad For So Many and What Can Be Done to Improve It.  I take the author’s main thesis to be that corporations have, in the interests of efficiency, focused increasingly on “core competencies.”  That has led to an outsourcing of non-core jobs and the commoditization of those jobs, outside the sphere of benefits, workplace community, investing in workers, and caring about worker morale.

Here is one excerpt from the book:

By focusing on core competencies, lead businesses in the economy have shed the employment relationship for many activities, and all that comes with it.  Shedding the tasks and production activities to other businesses allows lead companies to lower their costs, since externalizing activities to other firms (particularly those operating in the more competitive markets) eliminates the need to pay the higher wages and benefits that large enterprises typically provided.  It also does away with the need to establish consistency in those human resource policies, since they no longer reside inside the firm.  This aspect of fissuring pushes liability for adherence to a range of workplace statutes (and other public policies) to other businesses.

I found this by no means a perfect book in terms of presentation.  The argument is meandering and it is not clear where the evidence is to come and what is to count as evidence for or against the thesis.  I also would have liked a clearer discussion of incidence.  If every company is producing “core competencies,” cannot the resulting boost in productivity make virtually all workers better off?  And cannot most workers end up in companies where they contribute to core competencies?  Well, maybe not, but the upshot here is not exactly clear from reading this book and furthermore the pessimistic tone of the book will then depend on other, quite separate mechanisms for distributing the benefits of these developments to capital not labor.  Still, this work presents an important idea with insight and I hope it finds its deserved readership.


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