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The western work force is in tumult, upset over stagnant wages, a loss of status, and the roiling of their accustomed world. Politicians like Donald Trump promise to do something about it. But does private industry have an obligation to step in as well?

In his sharply framed and important new book, The End of Loyalty, Rick Wartzman tells us that the answer is yes. Globalization and automation are "among the forces that have caused the social compact to unravel," he tells Axios. "But the gasoline on the fire is the shift in corporate culture away from a very explicit balancing of the interests of all stakeholders, including workers, and the movement to maximizing shareholder value."

The bottom line: Wartzman does not expect a return to the corporate paternalism of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, but sees upside in revisiting "how the pie is divided. That is a choice corporate leaders make," he said. "Companies have a responsibility to take the lead in sharing more broadly. It's in their interest to do so."

Wartzman tells a business and social history through the intertwined stories of four companies: GM, GE, Kodak and Coca-Cola.

It begins in World War II, once the FDR administration was reasonably sure of victory, and a big worry was what to do with some 8 million returning soldiers, along with tens of millions more Americans working in the wartime economy: in all, some 50 million Americans would need private sector jobs, and need them quickly. Failure, it was thought, meant the threat of "isms" like Communism, and general social mayhem like the Depression-era 1930s.

The worry turned out to be for nothing: the federal government stepped in with counter-cyclical fiscal and monetary policy, and full-employment legislation. But the main hand was played by companies, which, encouraged by pent-up demand, hired essentially the entire wartime work force. More important: private employers by and large paid well, handed out frequent raises, and offered pensions and health insurance.

They called this "welfare capitalism." And it was not thought to be altruistic. Did you want your employees to be content while they did sometimes rote tasks? Did you want the community in which a company was located to be stable, and help guarantee its longevity, not to mention that of the country at large? And did you want your employees to be able to afford what you produced? Then these were the costs.

Wartzman writes: "It was up to GE to look out for 'the balanced best interests of all': its customers, shareholders, employees and the communities in which it operated."

He goes on, "This conception of loyalty with workers and their bosses coming together in their quest for something larger than themselves had deep roots in the American tradition."

It's a tradition, Wartzman writes, that U.S. corporate culture must rediscover.

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes mix-and-match for COVID booster shots

Photo: Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) on Wednesday gave its approval for Americans to get booster shots that are different from the COVID vaccine they initially received.

Why it matters: The recommendation from the FDA, which also authorized booster shots for people who received Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines on Wednesday, paves the way for an expansion of booster shots.

GOP congressman forfeits committee seats after indictment

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) on Wednesday stepped down from his committee assignments after being indicted for lying to federal investigators amid a probe into illegal campaign donations.

What they're saying: In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Fortenberry said he is "grateful for the outpouring of support from my friends and colleagues as we work against the injustice confronting me."

Rahm Emanuel questioned on murder of Laquan McDonald in confirmation hearing

Rahm Emanuel during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearing on Oct. 20. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel spoke about the murder of Laquan McDonald during his Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday to become the U.S. ambassador to Japan, saying that "there's not a day or a week that has gone by in the last seven years I haven't thought about this."

Catch up quick: McDonald was a Black teenager who was fatally shot 16 times by Chicago police during Emanuel's tenure as the city's mayor. The 2014 shooting triggered massive protests, both because of its nature and the fact that the officers' body-cam footage was concealed for years.