The Once and Future Worker | Oren Cass

Summary of: The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America
By: Oren Cass


Step into the world of Oren Cass’s critical analysis of American labor and social policy in ‘The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America.’ This summary covers the author’s perspective on the central failures of American public policy since World War II, which prioritizes consumption at the expense of meaningful work and productivity. Delve into Cass’s solutions such as supporting local jobs, halting unskilled immigration, and rethinking trade agreements. Discover the importance of culture and attitude in elevating the value of work and fostering a strong, functioning democracy. This summary explores the criticisms, praises, arguments, and suggestions offered by Cass as we ponder upon the future of work.

American Labor and Social Policy

A critique of US labor policies with a solution-oriented approach that encourages work and empowers workers.

American Compass executive director, Oren Cass, challenges the US’ labor market policies with a subtle but controversial approach. Cass suggests policies should encourage employed workers rather than idle ones and shift focus from welfare for the idle to assistance for the employed. This, he argues, would support displaced and unemployed workers. Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs, applauds Cass’ ideas noting; “His diagnosis cuts to the heart of what’s troubling our political economy, and his prescriptions chart the way toward a more constructive politics.”

Cass draws fire from some opposing voices, including James K. Galbraith, who claims that Cass’s focus on labor markets is a misunderstanding. Galbraith criticizes Cass’s opposition to regulations and his suggestion of a “flex fund” for states, claiming it is an old scam, and it will lead to states slashing benefits to attract the poor from other states. However, there are supporters of Oren Cass’s proposal. Former boss, US Senator Mitt Romney, says the book “should be required reading for those who endeavor to create a labor market in which workers can create and support strong families and communities.” Samuel Hammond of the Niskanen Center finds the book “a coherent critique of hyper-globalization paired with a strategy for re-empowering the working class.”

In summary, Oren Cass proposes a shift in focus from idle workers to employed workers in US labor policies, which could help support displaced and unemployed workers positively. Despite receiving critiques from some professionals, including James K. Galbraith, the book receives a fair share of support from Samuel Hammond, Mitt Romney, and Yuval Levin.

Recalibrating Economic Policy for Purposeful Work

Oren Cass argues that the US needs to re-evaluate its economic and labor policy by creating more purposeful and living-wage jobs to deter the epidemic of idle workers and soaring national debt caused by poor economic policies since the 1960s. Cheap goods have stimulated consumption but sacrificed productivity, leading to eroding access to purposeful work for unskilled and undereducated workers. Cass suggests supporting local jobs that pay living wages and ending immigration of unskilled workers. He also urges the federal government to renegotiate or cancel trade agreements that harm domestic manufacturing and low-skilled workers.
Cass believes that purposeful work that pays enough to support a family is the bedrock of a functioning democracy; it provides meaning, improves communities, and promotes happiness. However, he acknowledges that work is hard, and society needs to ensure that the reward for pursuing it is maximized. By creating jobs that pay a living wage, individuals can derive more happiness from their work than from their spouses or children. Implementing such policies will not make everyone rich, but it will support families and communities, and reduce the national debt.

Cass on the Cost of Environmental Laws, Vocational Track, and Immigration

In his book, Cass argues that restrictive environmental laws depress wages, restrict investments, and cut jobs. He suggests that government and businesses work together to provide job-specific training to support the workforce. Cass highlights that vocational tracks and apprenticeships could be a viable option for students seeking fulfilling careers. He also asserts that strict employment taxes, laws, and safety regulations increase costs for employers and shrink workers’ paychecks. Cass advocates for immigration policies that exclude immigrants without college degrees but provide work permits to undocumented immigrants. He also supports a path to citizenship for those living in the country for more than 10 years. Cass believes that state enticements and tax relief result in interstate competition and unfairness to existing businesses. Additionally, he emphasizes that wage subsidies should support those who work, and government assistance should only be provided to the old, disabled, or temporarily unemployed.

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