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Collective and Cumulative Careers: Foundations for Sustainable Prosperity

This research project posits that increasing income concentration and erosion of the middle class are interrelated results of a change in the dominant corporate resource-allocation regime from “retain-and-reinvest” to “downsize-and-distribute,” manifested by massive distributions to shareholders and the disappearance of “collective and cumulative” careers.

The Collective-and-Cumulative-Career (CCC) hypothesis builds on the proposition that, for an individual, productivity-enhancing skill development derives from on-the-job experience, given the educational attainment required to access the job. Applied to the U.S. economy, the CCC hypothesis argues that a major explanation for income inequity and employment instability is a systemic and escalating failure of major US corporations to invest in CCCs over the past three decades. Our project asks how in recent decades CCCs have changed in U.S. high-tech industries, and what forces, including the financialization of the U.S. corporation, have been driving these changes. We undertake three areas of research related to the CCC hypothesis: 1) evidence of erosion of CCCs in the United States since the 1980s with a focus on the ICT, pharmaceutical, and aerospace industries; 2) industry dynamics that have caused erosion of CCCs, focusing on rationalization of blue-collar employment since the 1980s, marketization of white-collar employment since the 1990s, and an acceleration of globalization of employment in general since the turn of the century; and 3) policy responses to the erosion of CCCs that will pose critiques of the conventional remedies that call for more R&D spending by government and business as well as more education for the U.S. labor force. We argue that these remedies will only yield productivity gains in the presence of increased investments by business enterprises in CCCs. Our research combines company case studies, statistical analyses, and cross-national comparisons of a number of selected companies and countries.