The raging 2020s Companies, countries, people--and the fight for our future

Alec Ross, 1971-

Book - 2021

"For 150 years, there has been a contract. Companies hold the power to shape our daily lives. The state holds the power to make them fall in line. And the people hold the power to choose their leaders. But now, this balance has shaken loose. As the market consolidates, the lines between Walmart and the Halls of Congress have become razor-thin. Private companies have begun to behave like nations, and with the government bogged down in bureaucratic negotiations and partisan wars, people look to nimble, powerful firms to solve societal problems-and to be our moral standard-bearers. As Walter Isaacson said about Ross's first book, "The future is already hitting us, and Ross shows how it can be exciting rather than frightening.&qu...ot; Through interviews with the world's most influential thinkers and stories of corporate activism and malfeasance, government failure and renewal, and innovative economic and political models, Alec Ross proposes a new social contract-one that resets the equilibrium between corporations, the governing, and the governed"--

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New York : Henry Holt and Company 2021.
Main Author
Alec Ross, 1971- (author)
First edition
Physical Description
322 pages ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction
  • 1. Shareholder and Stakeholder Capitalism
  • 2. The Government: Billions of People Are Governed More by Companies than by Countries
  • 3. The Workers
  • 4. Taxes and the Wormhole in the Global Economy
  • 5. Foreign Policy: Does Every Company Need Its Own State Department, Pentagon, and CIA?
  • 6. The Geography of Change: The Contest for Power between Closed and Open Systems
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • Acknowledgments
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

For most of the twentieth century, a balance between business, government, and labor led to dramatic innovations and improved quality of life for many. Now, however, we are in a moment of significant inequality, disparate impacts of climate change, and major political and economic upheaval, argues Ross, an innovation expert and former Senior Advisor for Innovation in the Obama administration. Here he examines how companies, countries, and people can shape the next decade of human history. Corporations like Walmart and Google are currently bigger than many nations. The 1970s doctrine of shareholder primacy in business decisions allowed corporations to generate profit for investors while ignoring all other stakeholders. The declining influence of unions reflects both the changing nature of work and the stagnation of traditional organizing models. Whether detailing multinational corporations' tax avoidance strategies or FEMA's failures in its Hurricane Maria response in Puerto Rico, each of Ross' examples is engaging and thought-provoking. Offering critique and an actionable roadmap of solutions, Ross argues for significant reworking of how government, workers, and companies approach the future.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

The social contract functions best when the relationship between government, citizens, and private companies sits in balance--and that balance has been thrown way off, according to this trenchant survey. Former Obama adviser Ross (The Industries of the Future) writes that the rights and responsibilities of individuals need to be rebalanced with those of states and corporations because globalization, deregulation, and the climate crisis have changed the state of the world, and things are only getting worse as inequality grows. Ross describes the chilling effects of "shareholder capitalism," which prioritizes shareholder profit over all other goals, as well as what can happen when private companies step in when the government fails or falters--as when Walmart proved that "major retailers can use their leverage to force a product off the shelves much faster than the government can" when it began pushing eco-friendly products in 2007. Things could get better, Ross writes, by 2030, and to that end he suggests reforms including a four-day workweek, reasonable social safety nets, and fair compensation. But, he warns, "if nothing changes, rage will be the defining quality of the 2020s." This disquieting look is a must-read for anyone looking to understand the present moment. (Sept.)

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Review by Kirkus Book Review

In serious disarray, the social contract requires a significant overhaul. Early on in this manifesto, Ross, the senior adviser for innovation for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, makes a stark observation: "If the level of inequality in the United States had stayed at a constant level over the last forty years instead of widening to its current Mad Max--like state, it would have meant that $50 trillion would have gone to workers earning below the 90th percentile. That is an additional $1,100 every single month for every single worker." Instead, we now squabble over raising the absurdly low minimum wage to only slightly less pathetic levels. A large part of the problem, notes the author, is that government has ceded authority to corporations, which naturally act in their own interest rather than for the common good. Furthermore, there is no effective labor movement to counter them. Corporations also evade taxes at such a level that if they paid their share, "of the people reading this book, 99 percent would pay less." Ross examines scenarios on both macro and micro levels. In writing of the corporatization of agriculture, for example, he focuses on his native state of West Virginia, where the population has shrunk dramatically as rural jobs disappear. Even as this occurs, what should have been a strong union response has become an exercise in rural politics that is increasingly "nativist as [West Virginia] has grown poorer and sicker." There are numerous alternative models for a social contract besides that of predatory capitalism. One is that of China, which "seeks to build a surveillance state so total that it becomes impossible for citizens to organize meaningful opposition," and another is the cradle-to-grave welfare state of the Scandinavian nations. At the end of this evenhanded but decidedly liberal argument, the author advocates "killing off shareholder capitalism" and strengthening social safety nets. A provocative, well-made case for remaking the American way of doing business--and way of life. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.