Republican Landslide Complements Book on Workplace

Article excerpt

Think "harmonic convergence" and what images materialize? Mount Shasta at dawn perhaps. Druids and Californians in saffron robes humming the Windham Hill backlist. Imaginative would be the person who immediately thought, "Ah, employment policy, ah, enlightenment."

Yet scholarship and the Zeitgeist did converge recently in the Republican landslide and the near simultaneous publication of a proposal to overhaul workplace law, leaving two bemused policy experts unexpectedly enjoying a worldhistorical moment.

They are Edward E. Potter and Judith A. Youngman, authors of "Keeping America Competitive: Employment Policy for the 21st Century" (Glenbridge Publishing, $27.95), a compendious excursion through employment law that was surely destined only for the seminar tables of policy Washington until the people spoke on Nov. 8.

The book contains a blueprint for a Republican "transformation" _ to adopt the street slang of the new order _ of rules governing the workplace, though entirely without the Sparta-must-die rhetoric of the party's leaders.

It seems a genuine attempt to balance the needs of employers who would be internationally competitive and of employees who would be mobile and flexible. Democrats who worry that the next few years would be nothing but bile, big hair and Barry Manilow may be relieved to know that dialogue is possible.

Nothing seems to have surprised the two authors more than the possibility that their book, the summation of several years of experience in the relatively arcane arts of trade policy and employment law, could become someone's legislative agenda.

"This was never intended to be a political book," Potter said in an interview last week, a few days after the book was presented at a Washington news conference. "It's the coincidence of timing that allows these ideas to have a hearing."

Similarly, Youngman: "We hope to start a discussion and debate, not just of specific proposals but on the fact that employment policy affects the competitiveness of employers and employees."

Potter is a lawyer and president of the Employment Policy Foundation in Washington. Youngman, an international trade specialist, teaches political science at the United States Coast Guard Academy in New London, Conn.

The book argues that Americans have for too long looked abroad for culprits to blame for the decline in the country's competitiveness. However much trade practices, low wages or simple technological piracy may give foreign competitors an edge, the more serious problem is domestic.

The country's intricate web of laws and regulations, the authors argue, impose "structural impediments" on the ability of companies and employees to do their jobs efficiently and thus competitively. …