September’s anti-Book of the Month
The topic of Slate’s Book Club this week is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream . The book is about Ehrenreich’s efforts to create a fictional persona and land a job in “media/public relations work.” Along the way, the career self-help industry is mocked. Let’s see how the reviewrs ...
The topic of Slate's Book Club this week is Barbara Ehrenreich's Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream . The book is about Ehrenreich's efforts to create a fictional persona and land a job in "media/public relations work." Along the way, the career self-help industry is mocked. Let's see how the reviewrs went for it. Hmmmm.... Tyler Cowen didn't like it very much:
The topic of Slate’s Book Club this week is Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream . The book is about Ehrenreich’s efforts to create a fictional persona and land a job in “media/public relations work.” Along the way, the career self-help industry is mocked. Let’s see how the reviewrs went for it. Hmmmm…. Tyler Cowen didn’t like it very much:
Our sleuth makes a mistake analogous to the one that marred Nickel and Dimed. In that earlier experiment, she entered life as a low-income worker, yet without many support systems. She had no church, no family, and no reliance on friends for financial or even moral aid. It is no wonder she found life so tough and capitalism so demoralizing. She lived an ordinary “lower class” life, yet with upper-middle-class, modern, academic morals and methods. This time she cuts herself off from networks and personal contacts. She does recruit some friends to lie for her and back up her vita, should anyone call and ask about her past. But there is not a single voice to spread the word about her. Nor can she fall back on accumulated experience and contacts, for that would reveal her identity. So, she stalks the job world as a paper ghost. Alan, I wonder what would you?as a rational employer?make of a 60ish-year-old woman who appears out of nowhere and has no pre-existing contacts, offers, or networks? And what job is more a matter of personal contacts than public relations? Ehrenreich is clueless when it comes to job searching. The book jacket describes her “series of EST-like boot camps, job fairs, networking events, and evangelical job-search ministries. She is proselytized, scammed, lectured, and?again and again?rejected.” The reader is never sure if she goes through all this to express her contempt for the participants in those enterprises, or if she truly believes this is the best way to look for a job. At one point she visits a Web site and pays $200 an hour for a weekly phone consultation; she is then told to fantasize about her ideal job. A worthy anecdote, yes, but should I assume this very smart woman was doing her best? Nor was Ehrenreich a model interviewee. For one meeting she was late. She was asking for salaries of $60,000-$70,000, and at least once she asked for $100,000. Her (phony) r?sum? is stacked with a long succession of short-term contracts, none showing much commitment. One interviewer tells her she seems “angry.”…. On the topic of practical experience with a process, let me offer mine. Through my work in my university, I have been involved in interviewing, hiring, and working with a media and PR person. First, we knew people who knew the hire; personal recommendations were an important signal of quality. Second, had a candidate behaved as Ehrenreich did, she would not have made the first cut.
Well, one would have expected Cowen, a free market economist, to dislike Ehrenreich. Surely Alan Wolfe, the other reviewer, who believes that capitalism, “cause[s] needless suffering to far too many innocent people,” has a more positive take? He does not:
Dear Tyler: No, actually, I cannot muster much, if any, enthusiasm for Bait and Switch. If anything, you may be too kind to Ehrenreich. The least of her problems is her cluelessness about what it takes to find work. I found even more disturbing her tendency to lecture those who lack her presumably superior understanding of how the world works.
Do not read the whole thing. UPDATE: Kieran Healy weighs in on Ehrenreich and suggests an intriguing alternative read.
Daniel W. Drezner is a professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and co-host of the Space the Nation podcast. Twitter: @dandrezner
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