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Temp
Cover of Temp
Temp
How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary
Borrow Borrow
Winner of the William G. Bowen Prize
Named a "Triumph" of 2018 by New York Times Book Critics
Shortlisted for the 800-CEO-READ Business Book Award
The untold history of the surprising origins of the "gig economy"—how deliberate decisions made by consultants and CEOs in the 50s and 60s upended the stability of the workplace and the lives of millions of working men and women in postwar America.

Over the last fifty years, job security has cratered as the institutions that insulated us from volatility have been swept aside by a fervent belief in the market. Now every working person in America today asks the same question: how secure is my job? In Temp, Louis Hyman explains how we got to this precarious position and traces the real origins of the gig economy: it was created not by accident, but by choice through a series of deliberate decisions by consultants and CEOs—long before the digital revolution.
Uber is not the cause of insecurity and inequality in our country, and neither is the rest of the gig economy. The answer to our growing problems goes deeper than apps, further back than outsourcing and downsizing, and contests the most essential assumptions we have about how our businesses should work. As we make choices about the future, we need to understand our past.
Winner of the William G. Bowen Prize
Named a "Triumph" of 2018 by New York Times Book Critics
Shortlisted for the 800-CEO-READ Business Book Award
The untold history of the surprising origins of the "gig economy"—how deliberate decisions made by consultants and CEOs in the 50s and 60s upended the stability of the workplace and the lives of millions of working men and women in postwar America.

Over the last fifty years, job security has cratered as the institutions that insulated us from volatility have been swept aside by a fervent belief in the market. Now every working person in America today asks the same question: how secure is my job? In Temp, Louis Hyman explains how we got to this precarious position and traces the real origins of the gig economy: it was created not by accident, but by choice through a series of deliberate decisions by consultants and CEOs—long before the digital revolution.
Uber is not the cause of insecurity and inequality in our country, and neither is the rest of the gig economy. The answer to our growing problems goes deeper than apps, further back than outsourcing and downsizing, and contests the most essential assumptions we have about how our businesses should work. As we make choices about the future, we need to understand our past.
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  • From the cover

    How We All Became Temps

    During the worst recession since the Great Depression, Elmer Winter gave a speech condemning the complacency of American businessmen. Winter was the president of Manpower Inc, a temporary labor agency, but also one of America's largest employers. He delivered his speech as a call to arms—a plea for nothing less than to save the country itself.

    Winter fixed on "deadly fears of the future" as a theme—developments Americans believed would undermine their economic safety. Some of these fears came from abroad, like Chinese twenty-five-cents‑an hour labor, or Russia's ever subtle global diplomacy. Most of Winter's fears, however, were about America itself, about the disconnect between our hopes and our realities." Foremost in the thinking of every man and woman who works is the basic question," Winter said, "'How secure is my job?'" The hope of the man on the street today in America, he told the shareholders, is "a good job—good health and security—for himself and for his family."

    Ever the realist, Winter told the businessmen that this dream of economic security, in the form of a steady, well-paid job, would no longer possible. He told them that the "old days are gone. . . and plans must be the order of the day." Winter's vision was to bring down costs, especially labor costs, by providing a flexible workforce without job guarantees, buttressed by new automation technology. American business would need to work smarter and harder to overcome the hue and cry that "we can't compete with foreign products where our labor rates are three or four times higher than theirs." Manpower, and other temporary agencies like them, would provide that labor.

    Winter's speech—youmight be surprised to learn—was delivered not in 2008, but in 1958. He gave it in the first brief downturn of the postwar economy. The end of American job security was not in the past, but still in the future.

    His prognostications came true, partially because he—and others like him—believed them so zealously and worked so hard to bring them about. The rise of our flexible economy—how we all, to some degree, have had to come to terms with the withering of the postwar job—is not just the story of Elmer Winter. His company, Manpower Inc.—the first major temporary agency, which in 2017 still employed over three million people or 50 percent more than Wal-Mart—would play an important role in transforming the world of work from one of security to insecurity, but it would not bealone. This transformation was not a conspiracy, but was carried out in public to much acclaim. Presidents, CEOs, and stock markets the world over celebrated the dismantling of the postwar prosperity.

    Most people kept their jobs, but you don't need to replace everybody to make the rest insecure. Temps define the limits of what is possible in labor, casting a long shadow over the rest of the workforce. Beginning in the midst of the postwar boom in the 1950s, American jobs were slowly remade from top to bottom: consultants supplanted executives at the top, temps replaced office workers in the middle, and day laborers pushed out union workers at the bottom. On every step in the ladder, work would become more insecure as it became more flexible.

    For some at the top, this new economic arrangement produced great opportunities and wealth, but for most people, flexibility produced economic uncertainty. For some of the new temps, like consultants, the work is glamorous and lucrative. For others, like office workers, it is a dead end. For those day laborers waiting outside Home Depot, it is work with little pay andmuch...

About the Author-
  • Louis Hyman is an associate professor of economic history at the Industrial Labor Relations School of Cornell University, as well as the director of ILR's Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City. A former Fulbright scholar and McKinsey consultant, Hyman received his PhD in American history from Harvard University. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Bloomberg, Pacific Standard, Wilson Quarterly and elsewhere. He is the author of Debtor Nation: The History of America in Red Ink and Borrow: The American Way of Debt.
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    All copies of this title, including those transferred to portable devices and other media, must be deleted/destroyed at the end of the lending period.

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How American Work, American Business, and the American Dream Became Temporary
Louis Hyman
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