Right-to-Work Laws: Liberty, Prosperity, and Quality of Life

10 Pages Posted: 27 Apr 2013

See all articles by Richard K. Vedder

Richard K. Vedder

Ohio University - Department of Economics

Date Written: January 25, 2010


Americans generally prefer freedom to coercion, high incomes to low ones, and individual decision-making to collective resolution of issues. For these reasons, they generally do not like laws that constrain their labor market behavior and force them to join collectives of other workers to negotiate their wages and working conditions. The right-to work provisions of the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947 have created sort of a natural experiment, providing an opportunity to observe behavior in two types of environments: one where workers are not compelled to join labor unions and a second where they can be compelled to join as a condition of employment. The evidence is absolutely clear: Americans prefer the right-to-work environment to the alternative.

The proportion of Americans living in right-to-work states has risen noticeably over the years, and only a small part of that is driven by new states adopting such laws. People move in extraordinary numbers to right-to-work states from states where union pressure has prevented the adoption of such laws. Moreover, the greater flexibility for workers and employers offered where right-to-work exists has contributed to higher rates of economic growth rates in the right-to-work environment. Although the United States seems to have been in roughly a stable political equilibrium regarding these laws in recent decades, if the past trends toward the right-to-work population growing in a relative sense persists while union membership continues to fall as a proportion of the labor force, a threshold point should be passed where the political equilibrium should tip toward making right-to-work laws universal for the entire American population.

Keywords: right to work laws, right to work states, mimimum wage laws, economic impact, effects on migration, economic freedom

JEL Classification: J30, J38, E24, J01, J88

Suggested Citation

Vedder, Richard K., Right-to-Work Laws: Liberty, Prosperity, and Quality of Life (January 25, 2010). Cato Journal, Vol. 30, No. 1, 2010. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2256469

Richard K. Vedder (Contact Author)

Ohio University - Department of Economics ( email )

Athens, OH 45701-2979
United States
740-593-0142 (Phone)
740-593-0097 (Fax)

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