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The Irony of Reform: Did Large Employers Subvert Workplace Safety Reform, 1869 to 1930?

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  • Price Fishback

Abstract

Between 1869 and the early 1900s state governments regulated safety in mines and factories and reformed the liability for accidents. Reformers sought to reduce workers' risks and ensure that those involved in accidents received reasonable medical care and compensation for lost earnings. Yet large employers often wielded significant clout. This paper explores the extent to which large employers, measured by average number of employees, subverted the safety reform process, including the adoption of safety legislation, its scope, and the resources devoted to enforcement. The findings vary by industry. In coal mining large employers followed a defensive strategy, limiting the breadth of regulation, pressing for regulations that were enforced more against workers than against employers, and weakening enforcement. In manufacturing, on the other hand, safety regulations were introduced earlier in states with larger average establishment sizes. Reformers may have succeeded in imposing regulations on large manufacturing employers. However, the finding is also consistent with large firms working to raise rivals' costs and the analytical narratives suggest that manufacturing employers at times shaped the legislation to their benefit and that the regulations were often poorly enforced.

Suggested Citation

  • Price Fishback, 2005. "The Irony of Reform: Did Large Employers Subvert Workplace Safety Reform, 1869 to 1930?," NBER Working Papers 11058, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:11058
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    1. Edward L. Glaeser & Andrei Shleifer, 2003. "The Rise of the Regulatory State," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 41(2), pages 401-425, June.
    2. Steven Shavell, 2003. "Economic Analysis of Accident Law," NBER Working Papers 9694, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    3. Fishback, Price V., 1986. "Workplace safety during the progressive era: Fatal accidents in bituminous coal mining, 1912-1923," Explorations in Economic History, Elsevier, vol. 23(3), pages 269-298, July.
    4. repec:hrv:faseco:30747197 is not listed on IDEAS
    5. Steven Shavell & A. Mitchell Polinsky, 2000. "The Economic Theory of Public Enforcement of Law," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 38(1), pages 45-76, March.
    6. Kim, Seung-Wook & Fishback, Price V., 1993. "Institutional Change, Compensating Differentials, and Accident Risk in American Railroding, 1892–1945," The Journal of Economic History, Cambridge University Press, vol. 53(04), pages 796-823, December.
    7. Price V. Fishback & Shawn Everett Kantor, 1995. "Did Workers Pay for the Passage of Workers' Compensation Laws?," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 110(3), pages 713-742.
    8. Casey B. Mulligan & Andrei Shleifer, 2004. "Population and Regulation," NBER Working Papers 10234, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    9. Price V. Fishback & Shawn Everett Kantor, 2000. "A Prelude to the Welfare State: The Origins of Workers' Compensation," NBER Books, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc, number fish00-1, June.
    10. Bartel, Ann P & Thomas, Lacy Glenn, 1985. "Direct and Indirect Effects of Regulation: A New Look at OSHA's Impact," Journal of Law and Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 28(1), pages 1-25, April.
    11. Gary S. Becker, 1983. "A Theory of Competition Among Pressure Groups for Political Influence," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 98(3), pages 371-400.
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    Cited by:

    1. Gurgul, Henryk & Lach, Łukasz, 2014. "Globalization and economic growth: Evidence from two decades of transition in CEE," Economic Modelling, Elsevier, vol. 36(C), pages 99-107.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • N3 - Economic History - - Labor and Consumers, Demography, Education, Health, Welfare, Income, Wealth, Religion, and Philanthropy
    • N4 - Economic History - - Government, War, Law, International Relations, and Regulation
    • K2 - Law and Economics - - Regulation and Business Law
    • H7 - Public Economics - - State and Local Government; Intergovernmental Relations

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