Synopses & Reviews
A provocative look at how the information technology explosion of the last decade has had a negative impact on the lives of working Americans.
In the great boom of the 1990's, management compensation soared, but the wages of most Americans barely grew at all. This wages stagnation has baffled experts, but in The New Ruthless Economy, Simon Head points to information technology as the prime cause of this growing wage disparity. Many economists, technologists and business consultants have predicted that IT would liberate the work force, bringing self-managed work teams and decentralized decision making. Head argues that the opposite has happened. Reengineering, a prime example of how business processes have been computerized, has instead simplified the work of middle and lower level employees, fenced them in with elaborate rules, and set up digital monitoring to make sure that the rules are obeyed. This is true even in such high-skill professions as medicine, where decision-making software in the hands of HMO's decides the length of a patient's stay in hospital and determines the treatments patients will or will not receive. Head argues that these computer systems devalue a worker's experience and skill, and subject employees to a degree of supervision which is excessive and demeaning. The harsh and often unstable work regime of reengineering also undermines the security of employees and so weakens their bargaining power in the workplace.
Drawing upon ten years of research visiting work places across America, ranging from medical offices to machine tool plants, Head offers dramatic insight into the impact of information technology on the quality of working life in the United States.
"[A] provocative call for the rehumanization of business and society, revolting against the impact of reengineering and massive information technology systems." Barbara Jacobs, Booklist
"Drawing on a decade of research, this provocative and thoughtful book is recommended for all academic libraries." Stacey Marien, Library Journal
"A welcome caution against believing all the claptrap we have heard about 'empowered' workplaces."--The New Leader
"As this hard-hitting book shows, most American companies have used information technology not to liberate workers from drudgery but to further their regimentation.... A sobering view of the new workplace."--Harvard Business Review
"If you're interested in the U.S. economy, you must read this book. It is full of fresh insights, meticulous reporting, and historical resonance. Simon Head shows us why the new economy is less new than we thought. Investors and policy makers will find reading this well-written analysis a memorable experience."--Bill Bradley
"This extraordinary book puts together the culture of modern capitalism with numbers and hard facts. Simon Head has written a disturbing and brilliant analysis of what ails the modern economy."--Richard Sennett, London School of Economics
"Head's acute and clearly presented book shows how innovations in software are making work more onerous and closely controlled. In each chapter, Head takes the reader to actual work sites employing 'technologies that are essentially human-proof,' i.e., in which personal choice is practically eliminated.... Head provides detailed and disturbing glimpses of how, to take only three examples, digital programs can be applied to assembling automobiles, running telephone centers, and managing medical care, with the result that wages decline and work becomes more tightly controlled."--Andrew Hacker, New York Review of Books
"A provocative call for the rehumanization of business and society, revolting against the impact of reengineering and massive information technology systems. Journalist Simon Head rationally gathers the evidence and presents the case against mass production."--Booklist
"Simon Head rightly criticizes the glib gurus who promote the mechanization of medical care. He appreciates that health care is full of inefficiencies, but that the quirky complexities of illness demand that each individual must always remain our central focus."--Jerome P. Kassirer, M.D., Editor in Chief Emeritus, New England Journal of Medicine
"Provocative and thoughtful."--Library Journal
"Simon Head's important book is sure to provoke a heated debate on the methods of modern enterprise. Can humans be programmed like machines? Head demolishes many of our illusions about information technology and argues powerfully that everyone loses when corporations try to use technology to conquer human nature."--Philip K. Howard, author of The Death of Common Sense: How Law Is Suffocating America and Chairman of Common Good
"Head is similarly tough on another New Economy conceit that underpins advocates' libertarian politics: the notion that high technology is democratizing the American workplace by flattening corporate hierarchies and boosting the knowledge content of jobs. Head's argument takes off from the simple but powerful observation that conditions in many tech-heavy workplaces look a lot more like those on the factory assembly lines of the 19th and early 20th centuries than like the sunny 21st century think tanks of the New Economy. Head asserts that corporate America's ambition to use technology to expand factory floor-like conditions extends well beyond the computer software mills and telephone call centers to the highest reaches of white-collar employment, including health care."--Los Angeles Times Book Review
Includes bibliographical references (p. 191-211) and index.
About the Author
is Director of the Project on Technology and the Workplace at the Century Foundation. He has been a correspondent for the Financial Times
and the New Statesman
, and his writings have also appeared in The New York Review of Books
. He lives in New York City.