Summary of High Wire

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Peter Gosselin discusses real problems that American families face today, especially those of the working poor. However, he views the past nostalgically. Nostalgia can be comforting, as you retreat from an uncomfortable present to a better past. You imagine former times as simpler, richer and nobler than the reality with which you struggle each day. But people of the past faced problems, too, and those led them to make the choices that resulted in the current situation. Gosselin sincerely wishes to improve society. His perspective is progressive. Politically conservative readers may fear that his solution would turn more of the U.S. economy over to the control of politicians and bureaucrats, concentrating power and decision making into fewer hands. However, the book is a passionately written cry from the heart; if nothing else, it is a wake-up call. getAbstract recommends it to human resource personnel who are concerned about work-family balance and benefits, as well as to current-events junkies and observers of politics and the economy.

About the Author

Peter Gosselin is a Washington correspondent for the Los Angeles Times. He is also a visiting fellow at the Urban Institute. He has won the George Polk Award twice.



The “Body Politic”

The Pilgrims who settled New England in 1620 understood that if they wanted to survive, they would need to cooperate with each other. In their Mayflower Compact, they agreed to “combine [themselves] together into a civil body politic.” Thus, Americans have a long tradition of collaborating, pulling together and caring for each other. Cooperation helped create the nation. Although U.S. society has produced some extremely wealthy individuals, philosophically it has emphasized opportunity and prosperity for all.

Unfortunately, this philosophy has changed in the past few decades. Now, Americans emphasize individual achievement. Families are suffering because the “ownership society” has undone traditional social safety nets. Workers are less secure in their jobs, their incomes, their homes, their health and their families. Only a few exceptional individuals get to enjoy the benefits of U.S. power and wealth; most people in the U.S. lead difficult economic lives that are incompatible with the traditional meaning of being an American.

Changing Benefits

In the late 1960s, during economic boom times, large, wealthy corporations promised their...

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