Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American
Dream (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2005, $24.00,
237 pages, ISBN 0-8050-7606-9)—Gregory J. Hollyfield,
Institut d'Etudes Politiques de Paris
most reviews of Barbara Ehrenreich's latest book, Bait
and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream,
seem to focus on the passage in which she details her
(short) encounter with coaching techniques that center
on Wizard of
Oz archetypes is anathema. It is not so surprising
to see popular culture images being used as metaphors
for complex abstract ideas such as "mental, [...]
emotional [and] instinctual"  intelligence
and personality types. Perhaps many critics, after having
found a good sound bite within the first 40 pages of
the book stopped dead on their journey along the yellow
brick corporate road before reaching the Emerald City
itself. The two most interesting points in Ehrenreich's
undercover journalistic experience are not mentioned
in most reviews.
having read about Ehrenreich's experience, two points
stand out above and beyond coaching with doll: 1) the
amazing amount of self-created importance that white-collar
executives have spun for themselves, and 2) the very
real financial cost that "consultants" ,
freelance workers for the layperson, "in transition", unemployed
for the layperson, have to pay for this hubris.
objective is clear enough
" to find a job, a "good"
job [and] a white collar position that would provide
health insurance and an income of about $50,000 a year"
. In pursuit of this objective, Ehrenreich followed
three simple rules:
Do everything possible to land the job, 2) Be prepared
to go anywhere for a job or even an interview, and
advertise this geographical flexibility in [...] contacts
with potential employers, and 3) Take the first job
[and] offered that met [these] requirements .
recognizes her own prejudices:
decision to enter corporate life—and an unfamiliar
sector of it, at that—required that I abandon, or
at least set aside, deeply embedded attitudes and
views, including my long-standing critique of American
corporations and the people who lead them [and] Like
it or not, the corporation is the dominant unit of
the global economy and the form of enterprise that
our lives depend on un a day-to-day sense .
eerie statement echoes what Joel Bakan says about corporations
in his 2004 work The Corporation: The Pathological
Pursuit of Profit and Power:
corporations govern our lives. They determine what
we eat, what we watch, what we wear, where we work,
and what we do. We are inescapably surrounded by their
culture, iconography, and ideology. And, like the
church and the monarchy in other times, they posture
as infallible and omnipotent, glorifying themselves
in imposing buildings and elaborate displays .
much like she did in her former best seller, Nickel
and Dimed: On (not) Getting by in America, Ehrenreich
openly admits that her research "would not be an
altogether fair test of the job market" ; however,
just because her research could not be considered "fair"
for various reasons including her age and lack of experience—both
handicaps in the corporate world, what
Ehrenreich discovered about life as a white-collar working
in transition is valid. If Ehrenreich is living a parallel
life for research purposes, the downtrodden people whom
she meets during the experience are not in this precarious,
hand-to-mouth situation as a means for writing a book.
Ehrenreich's experience reflects her own preconceived
notions of what corporate life is, or is not, is arguable.
However, what is less debatable, at least in Ehrenreich's
case, is the value that self-created importance, based
on fakery or lies, has taken on in the corporate world.
This "illusion is everything" notion is not
so surprising in the corporate world; one only needs
to think of Enron or WorldCom for further proof of this
slogan in action within the corporate milieu.
Ehrenreich solicits the help of a résumé
writing coach, she quickly learns that "fakery
[...] may just be the essence of résumé
writing" . While Ehrenreich does learn some
interesting tips from Joanne, her résumé
writing coach, e.g. one is not a freelance worker but
a consultant, Ehrenreich learns more about "how
to lie [...] is part of the game [...] Deception is
part of the game" . Ehrenreich even credits
Kimberly, her personality coach, with "the requisite
phoniness"  needed to be successful in the
in the corporate world extends beyond the use of euphemisms
on one's résumé; it is a pillar of the
much lauded ability to network too. In this case, Ehrenreich
is not the only person bothered by this world of illusions;
even a fellow consultant in transition bemoans"
'the whole networking thing: It feels so fake to me'"
. And networking, much like one's résumé,
as Ehrenreich learns, needs to be customized, thus entailing
a cost, which when the process is suspiciously "artificially
prolonged" , may "border[s] on fraud"
. As if the whole networking front were not phony
enough with its mini-gurus et
al, even the places where these networking powwows
take place are artificial with "Fake ivy on the
trellises"  and "artificial air and light".
pushed to its logical limits, "fake" or at
least pseudo-scientific means are even employed to evaluate
one's personality type, which in turn is a determining
factor in finding the right job. The "meaningless
personality tests" , the Wagner Enneagram Personality
Style Scales (WEPSS), a "pastiche of wispy New
Age yearnings for some mystic unity underlying the disorder
of human experiences" , and the Myers-Biggs
Type Indicator "lend[s] a superficial rationality
to the matching of people with jobs" .
seemingly scientific formulae and "fuzzy math"
are also used fraudulently in the corporate world- and
not just in Enron's book keeping. When one of the "power
of positive thinking" networking gurus needs to
justify his theory that "there is a kind of gravitational
force connecting our thoughts to their real-world fulfillments."
Whenever you think something, the thought immediately
attracts its physical equivalent" , he does
so by telling Ehrenreich that "F=
This mumbo jumbo supposedly demonstrates how:
are the masses of the two attracting objects, G
is the gravitational constant and R is the
distance between them. Obviously, as R', say
the distance between you and the money [always the
corporate objective] gets smaller, F, the force
attracting the money gets radically larger" .
Ehrenreich puts it, this "weird science" 
is just justification for explaining the winners' success
in the most flattering terms while invalidating the
complaints of the losers . This idea is compatible
with the "long-standing American idea [...] that
circumstances count for nothing compared to the power
of the individual will" , which in turn may
have a calming effect on American "Calvinist angst"
Americans' Calvinist angst also comes at a price. Ehrenreich
had initially set aside $5,000 for her ten-month project.
The WEPSS test and professional evaluation of her results
set her back $60. Kimberly, her personality coach agreed
"to a weekly half-hour session by phone for $400
a month, or $200 an hour" . Based on Kimberly's
profession assessment of Ehrenreich, Ehrenreich needed
"three months of coaching" , meaning $1,200.
In accordance with her first rule for the experiment,
"doing everything possible" more, the group
Forty-plus suggested that Ehrenreich attend its 3-week,
8 hour a day boot camp for $600; however, Ehrenreich
settled on a shorter crash course which was less expensive,
but involved flying from Virginia to Atlanta, which
according to her "isn't cheap [$179 we eventually
learn], especially when you factor in airfare and a
night in a hotel, but the difference between 7 hours
and the 120-hour commitment required by Forty-plus is
continued to incur very
real costs all along her journey as a "consultant
in transition." After having paid $150 to join
the executive website, seminars were then offered to
the members for $35 each. At other free of charge events
for "white-collar workers in transition" that
she attended, the speakers encouraged the people attending
to buy their motivational audio-visual recordings. Ehrenreich
was informed that she may want to rethink her image.
set her back $250 , plus the $55.50 worth of cosmetics
that she also bought, and the $160 worth of new clothes
 to go with her new look. Needless to say, after
four months of researching, she had spent "almost
$4,000" , or 80 percent of her budget with
more than half the experiment to go. Ehrenreich had
to curb her spending, but the opportunities to spend,
from headhunting agencies to pyramidal
schemes, kept presenting themselves to her. By the end
of her adventure, Ehrenreich had spent more than $6,000
in her futile search for "a good job."
Ehrenreich reminds us:
those who can't afford to be fussy about status or
pay, there are of course plenty of jobs in America
[...] Even in the absences of new job creation, high
turnover in the low-wage job sector guarantees a steady
supply of openings to the swift and the desperate.
To white-collar job seekers, these are known as "survival
jobs"—something to do while waiting for a "real"
job to come along .
these "survival" jobs, more often than not,
do not give way to anything bigger and better, at least
in Ehrenreich's research. After finishing her research,
but before writing the book, she contacted the people
whom she had met during the course of her research.
Eleven of them responded to her, and none had found
a "real" job. One can just hope, for their
sake, that they had not spent $6,000 (that they did
not have) on phoniness and the tomfoolery of snake oil
may find Ehrenreich's research to be reductive, too
simple, or formulaic. While there may be some truth
to these accusations, Barbara Ehrenreich remains one
of the few journalists in the United States willing
to take on Wal-Mart as well as the "good old boys"
in the board room (and, by and large, the people she
encounters in the networking sessions are mostly men).
Ehrenreich's writing style is straightforward and a
pleasure to read without insulting either the GED or
the Ph.D. candidate. In conclusion, this book should
be required reading in sectors of activity as diverse
as colleges of businesses, journalism or social work,
and for all CEOs and shareholders, not to mention for
"consultants" be they in "transition"