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A Biological Model of Unions

  • Michael Kremer
  • Benjamin A. Olken

This paper applies principles from evolutionary biology to the study of unions. We show that unions that implement the preferred wage and organizing policies of workers will be displaced in evolutionary competition by unions that either extract less from firms, allowing them to live longer, or spend more on union organizing, or both. This implies that unions with constitutional incumbency advantages that allow leaders to depart from members' preferences may have a selective advantage, allowing them to grow at the expense of unions lacking such provisions. Evidence from the history of American unions supports these predictions. (JEL A12, J51)

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal American Economic Journal: Applied Economics.

Volume (Year): 1 (2009)
Issue (Month): 2 (April)
Pages: 150-75

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Handle: RePEc:aea:aejapp:v:1:y:2009:i:2:p:150-75
Note: DOI: 10.1257/app.1.2.150
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  1. Barry T. Hirsch, 2004. "What Do Unions Do for Economic Performance?," Journal of Labor Research, Transaction Publishers, vol. 25(3), pages 415-456, July.
  2. Ricardo J. Caballero & Mohamad L. Hammour, 1998. "The Macroeconomics of Specificity," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 106(4), pages 724-767, August.
  3. Barry T. Hirsch & David A. Macpherson, 1993. "Union Membership and Coverage Files from the Current Population Surveys: Note," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(3), pages 574-578, April.
  4. Feenstra, Robert & Markusen, James R. & Rose, Andrew K, 1998. "Understanding the Home Market Effect and the Gravity Equation: The Role of Differentiating Goods," CEPR Discussion Papers 2035, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  5. Richard B. Freeman & Morris M. Kleiner, 1999. "Do Unions Make Enterprises Insolvent?," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 52(4), pages 510-527, July.
  6. Leo Troy, 1992. "Convergence in International Unionism, etc. The Case of Canada and the USA," British Journal of Industrial Relations, London School of Economics, vol. 30(1), pages 1-43, 03.
  7. Timothy Dunne & Mark J. Roberts & Larry Samuelson, 1988. "Patterns of Firm Entry and Exit in U.S. Manufacturing Industries," RAND Journal of Economics, The RAND Corporation, vol. 19(4), pages 495-515, Winter.
  8. David Card & Craig A. Olson, 1992. "Bargaining Power, Strike Duration, and Wage Outcomes: An Analysis of Strikes in the 1880s," NBER Working Papers 4075, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  9. Clark, Kim B & Freeman, Richard B, 1980. "How Elastic is the Demand for Labor?," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 62(4), pages 509-20, November.
  10. Paula B. Voos, 1983. "Union Organizing: Costs and Benefits," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 36(4), pages 576-591, July.
  11. Richard B. Freeman, 1997. "Spurts in Union Growth: Defining Moments and Social Processes," NBER Working Papers 6012, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  12. William T. Dickens & Jonathan S. Leonard, 1985. "Accounting for the Decline in Union Membership, 1950–1980," ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 38(3), pages 323-334, April.
  13. Michael D. Bordo & Claudia Goldin & Eugene N. White, 1998. "The Defining Moment: The Great Depression and the American Economy in the Twentieth Century," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number bord98-1, September.
  14. Moene, K.O. & Wallerstein, M. & Hoel, M., 1992. "Bargaining Structure and Economic Performance," Memorandum 10/1992, Oslo University, Department of Economics.
  15. Benjamin F. Jones & Benjamin A. Olken, 2005. "Do Leaders Matter? National Leadership and Growth Since World War II," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 120(3), pages 835-864.
  16. William T. Dickens & Jonathan S. Leonard, 1984. "Accounting For The Decline in Union Membership," NBER Working Papers 1275, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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