CAPITALISM has been coming in for some scarifying criticism lately. Since the first of the year National Public Radio has broadcast a thoughtful series on the causes and human costs of corporate downsizing. The New York Times has run a seven-part series on America under the big knife of downsizing. Newsweek, on its cover, has called executives who specialize in layoffs "Corporate Killers." Calling the stock market "un-American," Pat Buchanan has injected the issue of "corporate butchers," disposable workers, and the downsized American dream into Republican politics. Picking up on the ideas of Labor Secretary Robert Reich, congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to give tax breaks to companies that treat their employees decently. On college campuses, meanwhile, students are signing up to be union organizers. The new president of the AFL-CIO, John Sweeney, promises to make downsizing an issue in collective bargaining and to expand the union's organizing work, reaching out to janitors, hospital attendants, and "pink-collar" workers, mostly women, who are employed in the service industries of the information economy. An effort is even being made to organize southern poultry workers, off whose limb-threatening labor we grow thin.
"Economic insecurity," "Wall Street greed," "throw-away workers"--the air is full of the language of radicalism. In the 1890s, as many commentators have noted, mass movements of Americans used these very words about "the money power." A century ago the local economies of small-town America were being overridden by the irresistible imperatives of the first truly national economy. Agricultural America was dying; industrial America was being born.