#98 You're More Powerful Than You Think: Eric Liu

If you're disillusioned, depressed or downright furious at the state of politics today, this episode is for you.

Eric Liu, founder and CEO of Citizen University, says that you're more powerful than you think. We discuss the stories, strategies and ideas raised in his timely new book, "You're More Powerful Than You Think: A Citizen’s Guide to Making Change Happen"

The key to fighting back successfully is to have a strategy and know how to read and write power,” but most people have no understanding of power and how to use it.  

Political illiteracy is one reason we feel so powerless. “I think the reality of American life, right now, is that so many people have neither the motivation nor the ability to read or write power,” Eric tells us. “They lapse into this “House of Cards” or dark conspiratorial vision that all politics are like "Scandal,” and out of that are born people like Donald Trump as President.” 

The truth is that ordinary people are able to accomplish extraordinary things.  We learn about Communities Creating Opportunity, a Kansas City-based campaign against predatory payday lending and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers - a surprisingly powerful movement for farmworker justice.  

For decades, poor and often illiterate migrant workers picked tomatoes in rural Florida, "laboring essentially under conditions of indentured servitude." Instead of an hourly wage, growers paid them pennies per bucket of what they picked, says Eric. The Immokalee farmworkers successfully demanded higher wages and better labor conditions. "In 2001, they organized the first-ever farmworker boycott of a fast-food company, against Taco Bell," writes Eric in his book.  Four years later, Taco Bell's parent company agreed to raise wages and reform its power chain.  

Eric's solutions:

  • Learn how power is organized. His book has nine strategies for changing the game. 
  • Vote. In his book, Eric Liu writes that voter turnout (in general) is rarely above 60 percent (at best).
  • Exercise your "we muscle.”Join a club or group and learn how to work with others on game-changing ways to improve the odds for a cause or a hobby that you care about.
  • Keep it local. Eric argues that too much attention is given to power politics in Washington D.C. Often the best way to bring about change is in the neighborhood or city where you live.
  • Schools and colleges should improve civics education, giving students a much clearer understanding of grassroots democracy. 

Learn more about citizenship and civic power from these online Citizen University videos.

Read a review of Eric Liu's new book, "You're More Powerful Than You Think," by New York Times journalist David Bornstein, co-founder of Solutions Journalism Network. David is one of our "Fix It" show guests, listen to Episode 47.
 

#96 Robots Are Not Coming For Your Job, Part 2: Peter Cappelli

How can we save good jobs?

In part one (episode #95), we spoke with Peter Cappelli of the Wharton School, about the impact of robots and automation on our workforce.  Here in part 2 Peter talks solutions and explains why some of the alarm over the impact on employment is out-of-touch with reality.

Technology is changing how we work, and too many companies are investing much more on technology than in people. Peter says that retraining employees is one solution. 

AT&T agrees. For many years the company has been a major player in new technology,  but as automation changed its workplace many AT&T employees no longer had the skills to run the company’s infrastructure. The solution? Complain about the skills gap?  No. AT&T decided to retrain its 100,000 employees. For the first time AT&T made Fortune’s list of the 100 Best Companies to Work For.

Peter says a good job is really more about “how people are managed, whether you give them control over what they're doing and whether you take care of them."

Credit: Typorama

Credit: Typorama

Some of the most important factors driving productivity are better management. In the 1980's General Motors, invested 7.7 billion dollars  to automate their production system. But the strategy proved to be a costly failure. Toyota, which used a lean management system, was far more successful, proving that sometimes the best investment is in training people.

Government can also help.  The current tax code and accounting principles stack the deck against investments in human capital. Retraining employees counts as a liability on a corporate balance sheet, while investing in equipment counts as an asset. The Federal Government has also spent billions of dollars to develop robots, and technology, that displace workers.

In a recent Washington Post article, Peter wrote: “Changing the tax code and accounting principles to un-stack the deck against investments in employees is far easier and more likely to succeed than any of the other policies under debate.”