The American worker is in crisis. Wages have stagnated for more than a generation. Reliance on welfare programs has surged. Life expectancy is falling as substance abuse and obesity rates climb.
These woes are not the inevitable result of irresistible global and technological forces. They are the direct consequence of a decades-long economic consensus that prioritized increasing consumption—regardless of the costs to American workers, their families, and their communities. Donald Trump’s rise to the presidency focused attention on the depth of the nation’s challenges, yet while everyone agrees something must change, the Left’s insistence on still more government spending and the Right’s faith in still more economic growth are recipes for repeating the mistakes of the past.
In this groundbreaking re-evaluation of American society, economics, and public policy, Oren Cass challenges our basic assumptions about what prosperity means and where it comes from to reveal how we lost our way. The good news is that we can still turn things around—if the nation’s proverbial elites are willing to put the American worker’s interests first.
Which is more important, pristine air quality, or well-paying jobs that support families? Unfettered access to the cheapest labor in the world, or renewed investment in the employment of Americans-including Smoothing the path through college for the best students, or ensuring that every student acquires the skills to succeed in the modern economy? Cutting taxes, expanding the safety net, or adding money to low-wage paychecks?
The renewal of work in America demands new answers to these questions. If we reinforce their vital role, workers supporting strong families and communities can provide the foundation for a thriving, self-sufficient society that offers opportunity to all.
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About the Author
He lives in Western Massachusetts with his wife and two children.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Working Hypothesis 1
Part I What Work is Worth
1 As American as Economic Pie 15
2 Productive Pluralism 29
3 The Labor Market 47
4 A Future for Work 59
Part II Turning Around
5 The Environment and the Economy 79
6 How the Other Half Learns 101
7 Of Borders and Balance 115
8 More Perfect Unions 141
9 The Wage Subsidy 161
Part III Beyond the Market
10 For Those Who Cannot Work 177
11 The Social Wages of Work 195
Conclusion: The Lost Generation 209
What People are Saying About This
“Oren Cass has accomplished the rare feat of not only saying something truly new and innovative about our society, but also doing it in a readable, engrossing way. The Once and Future Worker is a wake-up call to our political class, and indeed the whole country, that rising consumption can’t replace that most basic of goods—a job. A brilliant book. And among the most important I’ve ever read.”
—J.D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy
“No one has better articulated the conservative argument for why work matters to America's long-term prosperity than Oren Cass. Oren’s insightful prescription for what ails us should be required reading for those who endeavor to create a labor market in which workers can create and support strong families and communities.”
“Oren Cass has written the essential policy book for our time. His diagnosis cuts to the heart of what’s troubling our political economy, and his prescriptions chart the way toward a more constructive politics. A must-read.”
—Yuval Levin, editor of National Affairs
“Through an unflinching indictment of the mistakes that Washington has made for a generation and continues to make today, Oren Cass forcefully draws out the contradictions of a consensus that has actively displaced Americans from their national inheritance of good jobs and thriving hometowns. The Once and Future Worker offers much-needed clarity for how to make the American Dream possible for the many.”
—Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL)
“Oren Cass’s focus on the importance of work—and making work pay—offers welcome common ground for policy debates across partisan and ideological lines. His core principle—a culture of respect for work of all kinds—can help close the gap dividing the two Americas that the 2016 election so starkly revealed.”
—William A. Galston, Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution
“Working-class voters tried to send a message in 2016, and they are still trying to send it. The crucial question is whether America’s leaders will listen and respond. One way to start doing that is to read Oren Cass’s absolutely brilliant new book.”
—David Brooks, New York Times
“Oren Cass has one of the sharpest policy minds in this new vanguard. . . . Cass’s book, timed for publication the week after the midterms, could either be the battle orders for a second Trump term or a to-do list for a successor stamped in the same mold.”
—Sam Tanenhaus, Time
“Oren Cass talks about a lot of these policy solutions that nobody wants to talk about. . . . Go check it out right now. It’s a sophisticated take on a lot of deep policy issues.”
—Ben Shapiro, The Ben Shapiro Show