Operations of "Unfettered" Labor Markets at the Turn of the Century
79 Pages Posted: 17 Oct 2007 Last revised: 17 Apr 2021
Date Written: November 1997
The American economy at the turn of the century offers an excellent opportunity to study the functioning of relatively unregulated labor markets. The essay surveys the economic history literature to determine how well labor markets operated in the early 1900s. After examining the mobility of workers, the integration of geographically dispersed labor markets 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 pushed for legislation during the progressive era to correct perceived market failures. We examine the impact of progressive legislation and discuss the political economy of its passage.
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