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Trouble for Workers and the Poor: Economic Globalization and the Reshaping of American Politics


  • Benjamin I. Page


In recent decades in the United States, even as inequalities of income and wealth have greatly increased, redistributive programs have tended to be curtailed. In some cases, government policies have begun to exacerbate, rather than moderate, inequality. Since this has occurred not only under the Republican Reagan and Bush administrations, but also in the Democratic Carter and Clinton administrations, it suggests that the politics of redistribution may have been fundamentally transformed. Moreover, evidence from aborad indicates that there has been a shift away from redistributive policies throughout the advanced industrial world. The implications of this trend and the prognosis for the future depend upon its precise political causes. To the extent that it has resulted from changes in contingent political forces -- especially increases in the political power of capital and concomitant losses of power by labor, together with much stronger anti-redistributive stands by business -- one can imagine a revival of redistribution, based on increased organization, mobilization, and political struggle by working people and the poor. Some signs of such struggle have in fact appeared. To the extent that the trend is structural, however -- based on changed technology and such international economic factors as lower trade barriers, extensive immigration, lower transportation and communication costs, and increased capital mobility -- the heightened power of capital and weakness of labor are likely to persist for a long time to come. Moreover, economic globalization may be making it more and more difficult for governments to redistribute income without counterproductive effects such as capital flight, loss of export competitiveness, and increased immigration of low-income people. Thus economic globalization may gravely impair, or even eliminate, the capacity -- as well as the will -- of nation-states to redistribute income or wealth within their boundaries. If this is so, remedies will be hard to come by. The logic of economic globalization implies that only global remedies will work. It is possible that only worldwide organization by workers, or universally applicable treaties and agreements, could effectively check (let alone reverse) increases in income inequality in advanced industrial countries. But such solutions would arouse intense political opposition and would probably face conflicts of interest between workers in rich and poor countries.

Suggested Citation

  • Benjamin I. Page, 1997. "Trouble for Workers and the Poor: Economic Globalization and the Reshaping of American Politics," JCPR Working Papers 5, Northwestern University/University of Chicago Joint Center for Poverty Research.
  • Handle: RePEc:wop:jopovw:5 Note: This paper is not available for download

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jacobson, Louis S & LaLonde, Robert J & Sullivan, Daniel G, 1993. "Earnings Losses of Displaced Workers," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 83(4), pages 685-709, September.
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    4. David S. Evans & Linda S. Leighton, 1995. "Retrospective Bias in the Displaced Worker Surveys," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 30(2), pages 386-396.
    5. William J. Carrington, 1993. "Wage Losses for Displaced Workers: Is It Really the Firm That Matters?," Journal of Human Resources, University of Wisconsin Press, vol. 28(3), pages 435-462.
    6. Ann Huff Stevens, 1995. "Long-Term Effects of Job Displacement: Evidence from the Panel Study of Income Dynamics," NBER Working Papers 5343, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
    7. Krueger, Alan B & Summers, Lawrence H, 1988. "Efficiency Wages and the Inter-industry Wage Structure," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 56(2), pages 259-293, March.
    8. Topel, Robert, 1990. "Specific capital and unemployment: Measuring the costs and consequences of job loss," Carnegie-Rochester Conference Series on Public Policy, Elsevier, vol. 33(1), pages 181-214, January.
    9. Neal, Derek, 1995. "Industry-Specific Human Capital: Evidence from Displaced Workers," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 13(4), pages 653-677, October.
    10. Daniel S. Hamermesh, 1987. "What Do We Know About Worker Displacement in the U.S.?," NBER Working Papers 2402, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
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    Cited by:

    1. Liberati, Paolo, 2007. "Trade Openness, Capital Openness and Government Size," Journal of Public Policy, Cambridge University Press, vol. 27(02), pages 215-247, August.
    2. Maxfield, Sylvia, 1998. "Understanding the Political Implications of Financial Internationalization in Emerging Market Countries," World Development, Elsevier, vol. 26(7), pages 1201-1219, July.
    3. Vincent Mahler, 2001. "Economic Globalization, Domestic Politics and Income Inequality in the Developed Countries: A Cross-National Analysis," LIS Working papers 273, LIS Cross-National Data Center in Luxembourg.

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