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Implicit Contracts, the Great Depression, and Institutional Change: A Comparative Analysis of U.S. and Japanese Employment Relations, 1920 1940

  • MORIGUCHI, CHIAKI

This paper employs a game-theoretic framework and a comparative historical analysis to study the impact of the Great Depression on corporate welfarism,' i.e., employers' voluntary provisions of non-wage benefits, greater employment security, and employee representation to their blue-collar workers. By characterizing corporate welfarism as an implicit contract equilibrium, the paper documents parallel institutional developments in the U.S. and Japan towards corporate welfarism during the 1920s and identifies the early 1930s as a bifurcation point at which the two trajectories began to diverge toward two distinctive equilibria. In the U.S., the repudiation of the implicit contracts by most leading firms induced by a deep depression caused a change in the expectations of workers and the public, which, in turn, supported a legal reform and the adoption of explicit employment contracts based on industrial unions and third-party enforcement. Experiencing a less severe depression, most major employers in Japan maintained their implicit contracts, while developing institutional arrangements to mitigate the cost of long-term commitment. In contrast to the U.S., labor laws in Japan developed complementary to private welfare practices, endorsing corporate welfarism based on implicit contracts and internal enforcement mechanisms.

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Article provided by Cambridge University Press in its journal The Journal of Economic History.

Volume (Year): 63 (2003)
Issue (Month): 03 (September)
Pages: 625-665

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Handle: RePEc:cup:jechis:v:63:y:2003:i:03:p:625-665_54
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  1. Greif, Avner, 1993. "Contract Enforceability and Economic Institutions in Early Trade: the Maghribi Traders' Coalition," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(3), pages 525-48, June.
  2. George Baker & Robert Gibbons & Kevin J. Murphy, 1993. "Subjective Performance Measures in Optimal Incentive Contracts," NBER Working Papers 4480, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  3. Fishback, Price V & Kantor, Shawn Everett, 1995. "Did Workers Pay for the Passage of Workers' Compensation Laws?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 110(3), pages 713-42, August.
  4. Prendergast, Canice, 1993. "The Role of Promotion in Inducing Specific Human Capital Acquisition," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 108(2), pages 523-34, May.
  5. Kanemoto, Y. & Macleod, B., 1989. "Optimal Labor Contracts With Non-Contractible Human Capital," UFAE and IAE Working Papers 116-89, Unitat de Fonaments de l'Anàlisi Econòmica (UAB) and Institut d'Anàlisi Econòmica (CSIC).
  6. Fishback, Price V, 1992. "The Economics of Company Housing: Historical Perspectives from the Coal Fields," Journal of Law, Economics and Organization, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(2), pages 346-65, April.
  7. Shapiro, Carl & Stiglitz, Joseph E, 1984. "Equilibrium Unemployment as a Worker Discipline Device," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 74(3), pages 433-44, June.
  8. Lazear, Edward P, 1979. "Why Is There Mandatory Retirement?," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 87(6), pages 1261-84, December.
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