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Operations of "Unfettered" Labor Markets: Exit and Voice in American Labor Markets at the Turn of the Century

  • Price V. Fishback

The American economy at the turn of the century offers an excellent opportunity to study relatively unregulated labor markets. This essay discusses the operation of labor markets in the early 1900s. After examining the mobility of workers, the integration of geographically dispersed labor markets, and a case study of the extent of employer monopsony, we examine the extent to which workers received compensating differentials for workplace disamenities and the extent to which competition among employers reduced discrimination. During this period, institutions like the company town, company union, and share cropping developed. These institutions are reexamined to determine the extent to which they were exploitative or helped resolve problems with transactions costs. Finally, reformers pressed for workers' compensation and laws regulating women's hours, child labor, and workplace safety. We examine the impact of progressive legislation and discuss the political economy of its passage.

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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Literature.

Volume (Year): 36 (1998)
Issue (Month): 2 (June)
Pages: 722-765

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jeclit:v:36:y:1998:i:2:p:722-765
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