Richard Rothstein

Richard Rothstein is a Prospect contributing editor, a research associate at the Economic Policy Institute, and senior fellow at the Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at U.C. Berkeley School of Law.

Recent Articles

The Starbucks Solution: Can Voluntary Codes Raise Global Living Standards

Starbucks, Wal-Mart, and Levi Strauss say they will do the right thing all over the world. That's better than if they made no commitment, but it may not be much.

S oon after protesters leafleted Starbucks stores because its Guatemalan coffee bean pickers earn less than that country's $2.50 daily minimum wage, Starbucks announced it would henceforth require growers to pay wages meeting "basic needs" of plantation workers. After NBC's Dateline filmed children working for Wal-Mart's Bangladesh garment suppliers, Wal-Mart adopted a contractor's "code of conduct." Following an expose that Levi Strauss contractors in Saipan had virtually enslaved imported Chinese women and paid them less than the legal minimum wage, the company vowed to do future business only with contractors whose workers are "fairly compensated . . . and not exploited in any way." A "toycott" of imported Chinese products provoked Toys "R" Us to adopt a code forswearing child labor. Reebok and Nike both now have codes for Third World workers, announced in response to Dutch and American protests (a recent Nation article noted that Nike paid Michael Jordan more for promotion in 1992...

The Global Hiring Hall: Why We Need Worldwide Labor Standards

Years ago we decided to banish child labor within our borders. Will such standards now be extended to the global economy -- or abandoned entirely?

Global labor standards may now become a mainstream public issue. NAFTA represents the first time a major trade agreement secures labor rights, albeit minimally. President Clinton may attend the 75th anniversary meeting of the International Labor Organization (ILO) in Geneva this June—a meeting that will consider endorsing the right of industrialized nations to bar imports from nations with little "social progress." Clinton and Jacques Delors, president of the European Union, have suggested that labor and social standards could be the subject of the next round of trade negotiations. In a world of widespread poverty, high unemployment and integrated markets, global labor standards are necessary to keep the poverty of poor nations from depressing the decent living standards of rich ones. When Third World workers' purchasing power lags their output, they can't afford to consume the fruits of their own production or to buy many exports from the industrial nations. As a result, the...

Are Black Diplomas Worth Less?

Relative to whites, minorities have made impressive gains in education attainment. Why are they still falling behind economically?

T he passage of Proposition 209, the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI), has signaled to many the beginning of the end for affirmative action [see Peter Schrag's " When Preferences Disappear "]. Evidence from California shows, however, that while the gap between white and minority educational achievement has narrowed, the gap between white and minority wages has continued to increase. This evidence strongly suggests that, contrary to the claims of many CCRI supporters, California's labor markets have not outgrown the need for interventions to correct bias, intentional or otherwise. Even conservative economists acknowledge that affirmative action was responsible in the late 1960s and 1970s for raising blacks' wages and bringing them more in line with the qualifications of black workers. But whether minority (especially black) wages are still less than what their qualifications warrant is a more difficult question than it appears. Educational attainment (measured by years of...

Blaming Teachers

Are inadequate teachers causing schools to underperform? A 1998 Harris poll finds that, by a ratio of over six to one, the public thinks improving teacher quality, not instituting vouchers or charter schools, is the key to school reform, more important than standardized testing, better curricula, or smaller classes. President Clinton complains that there ought to be a "process for removing teachers who aren't competent" and proposes denying federal funds to schools that hire unqualified teachers. We "can no longer fiddle around the edges of how we recruit, prepare, retain and reward America's teachers," says Education Secretary Richard W. Riley. "A growing number of school districts are throwing a warm body into a classroom, closing the door, and hoping for the best." We have bemoaned teacher quality at least since "A Nation at Risk," the 1983 report of the Reagan administration's Department of Edu cation, concluded that America was economically uncompetitive with Europe and Japan...

The Myth of Public School Failure

Public schools are actually performing remarkably well. What they need is not radical reform but more support.

T here's a conventional wisdom about public schools: Graduates don't have the skills needed for a technologically advanced economy. We've doubled funds for public education since the mid-1960s, but more money hasn't improved schools. Academic achievement is stagnant or declining. Public schools can't impprove because teachers are smothered by bureaucracy. To address this system failure, structural reforms such as school-based desision making or parental choice of schools are imperative. Liberals and conservatives share much of this view, parting only when the left proposes radical decentralization of public schools while the right calls for privatization with vouchers. Yet despite the broad consensus, each assertion in the conventional story is incorrect or misguided. The truth is: Public schools now produce most academic skills currently demanded by employers and, most likely, even the skills needed if industry adopted more flexible production methods. While public education funding...

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