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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 205

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The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism is a 1991 nonfiction book by former US Secretary of Labor Robert Reich. In it, Reich posits that national competitiveness in the modern era has evolved to rely on education and infrastructure in the place of its traditional basis in corporations and capital.

Though it is a nonfiction text, Reich uses the extended metaphor of a boat to describe his thesis, assigning the crew and passengers of each boat various personalities. Reich periodically returns to this metaphor and the crew and passengers of the boats form the characters of the book.

For instance, the American "boat" is piloted by the President, the CEOs of companies, venture capitalists, and the leaders of organized labor. The principal character traits of these "pilots" is their "wisdom, foresight, and ambition." The citizens, in Reich's metaphor, are the passengers of the boat.

Over time, in Reich's metaphor, the passengers have diffused so that "Americans are no longer in the same economic boat." The scattering of the passengers was occasioned by increased economic equality. Moreover, the pilots—part of a new transnational, capitalist class—are no longer tied to the welfare of their boats and may quit to relocate to other boats.