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Thouraya Raiss, School of Education (650) 723-2119

Stanford author sees major gap between changes in the workplace and the policies needed to sustain social stability

"We are in the throes of radical changes in the way people work and consume, but sustaining the benefit of these changes means building a new set of social institutions to support them," Martin Carnoy writes in his new book, Sustaining the New Economy: Work, Family and Community in the Information Age, published this month by Harvard University Press and the Russell Sage Foundation.

Carnoy, professor of education and economics at Stanford, argues that even though global competition and the spread of information technology have pushed businesses to become more efficient by reorganizing work around decentralized management and less permanent employment, there is a price to pay for this labor market flexibility.

"In the year 2000, the idiosyncrasies of Silicon Valley in the 1970s are becoming the dominant American culture of work and they are also spreading quickly to other countries," Carnoy writes. "Young people move from job to job without blinking an eye. They are as detached from their workplace as they are from their government and their community. Their world has speeded up. Thanks to a communications and software revolution, we are more 'connected' than ever -- by cell phone, by e-mail, by videoconferencing -- yet more disconnected than in the past from social interaction."

"The old ways people connected to each other, by developing long-term relations in their workplaces and neighborhoods, don't work when people change jobs often as mature adults," Carnoy says. "Families don't mean the same thing as a generation ago, especially for the children growing up in them. With both parents working and working longer hours, already unstable families are less able to invest time in their kids. We have to develop new institutions through which individuals can reconnect to others in our fast-paced, high-risk society."

The most logical way to build reconnectivity is through education, Carnoy argues. The new economy is a knowledge economy. Children are staying in school longer, adults need new knowledge and information throughout their lives to keep themselves marketable in a rapidly changing economy, and working parents need new kinds of educational services, such as day care, preschool and after-school activities, to help them raise their children. Carnoy envisages schools and universities as the new economy's community centers, with people's lives and social connections increasingly organized around educational activities.

He claims that unless government focuses more of its activities on developing new integrative institutions to support the new world of work, it will become even less central to citizens' lives. Worse, the conditions required for long-term growth and social stability could be threatened.

Public policies, business strategies and community organizing strategies need to be changed, Carnoy says. But we must first understand the connection between labor markets and the simultaneous changes taking place in families and communities. Only those political leaders who see the handwriting on the wall early will be able to create a livable economic development in which flexibility and competitiveness can be sustained, he writes.


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