Work in the Precarious Economy   /   Spring 2016   /    Work In The Precarious Economy

Temps, Consultants, and the Rise of the Precarious Economy

Louis Hyman

Sudden visible tentacles, 2012, by Peter Ravn; courtesy of the artist.

Instead of jobs, there would be projects. Instead of bosses, there would be project managers.

In 1967, the celebrated economist and intellectual John Kenneth Galbraith argued in his best-selling book The New Industrial State that “we have an economic system which, whatever its formal ideological billing, is in substantial part a planned economy.”11xJohn Kenneth Galbraith, The New Industrial State (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin, 1969), 6. Original work published 1967. Citations refer to the Houghton Mifflin edition. Though postwar American politicians juxtaposed US free markets to the centrally planned economies of the Soviet bloc, Galbraith recognized that the two were more similar than one might have thought. The private planning of corporations, whose budgets were sometimes bigger than those of governments, defined postwar American capitalism, not markets.22xIbid., 26. Markets meant uncertainty, and postwar corporate planners eschewed risk above all else.33xPortions of this essay are drawn from Louis Hyman, “Rethinking the Postwar Corporation: Management, Monopolies, and Markets,” in What's Good for Business: Business and American Politics Since World War II, edited by ed. Kim Phillips-Fein and Julian E. Zelizer (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2012): 195−211.

After the chaos of depression and war, corporate planners had worked in conjunction with federal policymakers to make a world that promoted stability. None of the top 100 postwar corporations had failed to earn a profit.44xGalbraith, The New Industrial State, 82. This profitability was not an accident. Nor was it the result of seizing every lucrative prospect. Rather, it had come from minimizing risk in favor of long-term certainty.

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