MEME 2.02


MEME 2.02

In this issue:

o Interview with U.S. Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich.

"Ultimately, we have to decide whether we are no more than an economy sharing a common currency in which the primary social glue binding us together is the business transactions we do with one another, or if we are still a society in which we have special obligations to one another as citizens." --Robert Reich, in MEME 2.02.

In the first week of January, AT&T fired approximately 40,000 employees out of a total workforce of approximately 305,000 people. This came several months after AT&T shocked the world by announcing its intention to divide into three separate companies: a telecommunications service company (known as AT&T), an un-named second company based at Bell Labs which will build the hardware behind telephone networks, and a third company specializing in computers, to be named National Cash Register (NCR).

AT&T, one of the oldest, and arguably most successful, corporations in the United States, made this decision for several reasons. One, according to CEO Bob Allen, included making AT&T more competitive in the changing world of communications, a world where simply carrying telephone conversation is replaced by complex layers of "content" -- from multimedia to video-conferencing to unknown digital network applications. Simultaneously, the U.S. Secretary of Labor, Robert Reich, made several pronouncements about the significance of these firings for the US economy at the start of the so-called Information Age. Reich used the term "electronic capitalism" in a New York Times op-ed to describe the changing nature of the world economy and work.

I managed to get the Secretary on the telephone for about a half-hour, and we discussed the implications of AT&T's actions and the changing nature of capitalism in the Information Age. What follows is a transcript of that conversation.

David Bennahum: Mr. Secretary, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. I read your op-ed piece, and I'm hoping in this conversation to really sink our teeth into the nature of work in an era of electronic capitalism and the degree to which capitalism is changing, in a sense, because of, shall we say, the Information Age or the arrival of an economy based on information. Reading your Op-Ed, you had this phrase "electronic capitalism" and that it's replaced the gentlemanly investment system that we used to have before. So I'm wondering, maybe to begin with, if we can start by looking at what do you mean by "electronic capitalism"?

Robert Reich: A form of capitalism in which investment decisions are made with extraordinary rapidity. Money can be moved at the speed of an electronic impulse. And there are a wide range of alternative places to park money, not only inside the borders of one country, but literally around the globe. Capital has never been as mobile. In fact, it is hard to conceive of how it could be more mobile. People, however, are still rather immobile. In fact, two-wage-earner families are becoming the norm, and two wage-earners have a harder time moving from place to place and getting jobs than one wage-earner. It's also difficult for people to leave friends and family when they depend on friends and family as never before for baby-sitting, suppor