Hail, Market, Full of Grace: Buying and Selling Labor Law Reform
Posted: 18 Oct 2001
Over the past two decades, in country after country, free-market ideology has been in the ascendancy under conservative leaders. That ascendency has continued as conservative leaders have been replaced by more moderate leaders - Reagan to Clinton, Kohl to Schroeder, and Thatcher to Blair - and as these new leaders repudiated the traditional positions of left-leaning governments and accepted key tenets of their predecessors' free-market ideology. Events such as the fall of the Soviet Union and a move to market values and away from socialism in nominally socialist countries create a basis for arguing that this shift in mainstream ideology is only logical, because market values have proven their superiority. This suggests we have just been through a scientific experiment which unequivocally demonstrated the validity of a competing economic theories.
Coming to grips with these changes is more than merely an intellectual game. Public policies depend on the answers reached, and interested parties have a great deal to gain by having their characterization accepted.
The jury may still be out, but the truth is the way we view what has happened did not come about as the result of a simple revelation of truth. Far from it. Rather, country after country has seen hard-hitting campaigns for fundamental ideological change. In Canada, for example, the Frasier Institute has advanced a sophisticated program in support of conservative law reform by sponsoring seminars, studies, and research, the results of which have received wide media exposure. The United States saw House Speaker Newt Gingrich's campaign built around the Contract with America complete with dramatic press opportunities. Similar campaigns for similar ends have been and are being waged in almost identical terms in Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the United States and elsewhere around the world. If current mainstream ideology is more the result of a public relations campaign than a Darwinian struggle with which we tamper at our peril, how has such a result been achieved? New Zealand's experiences beginning in the early 1980's provide a useful way in which to understand just how such a campaign has been conducted procedurally and substantively. In addition, law and law reform provide a context for examining how a society's views are developed and promoted, how an ideology can move from the fringes to take place its place as part of the foundation upon which a society is built.
Failing to win converts to new understandings and a new construction of reality means the failure of law reform. Initially, failure will result in no legal change. Later, the struggle to enact a law and create a shared understanding shapes the way the law is understood and interpreted by courts and litigants, by adherents and opponents, and by the society as a whole. Succeeding in enacting new legislation but failing to achieve or maintain a congruent vision means that interpretation and application can so subvert the law that it does not achieve its intended ends, particularly in highly contested areas, such as labor and employment relations.
JEL Classification: B30, J51, K00, K31
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