Back to top anchor
Guest lecture

Labor Politics - and Labor Violence - in a historical perspective

Event series: 


Why did Open access to labor organizations take nearly a century more to occur than for business organizations? During the century previous to the New Deal, firms and governments actively suppressed labor organization, firing workers who struck, and firing and arresting labor leaders. Many firms employed private armies, often in collusion with the government. Most scholars agree that the National Labor Relations act of 1935 solved the problem. But what did the act do and why couldn't this have been done decades earlier to forestall the deadweight loss associated with labor violence.

The purpose of this paper is to develop a new perspective on labor organization and violence that addresses these questions. We claim that the century-long violence surrounding labor resulted from an inability to solve a series of commitment problems. We argue that all three parties to the violence - labor, business, and government - faced commitment problems. An important part of solving the problem was creating the government agency as a neutral arbiter, a new form of agency invented for this purpose.

About Barry Weingast

Barry R. Weingast is the Ward C. Krebs Family Professor, Department of Political Science, and a Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University. Weingast served as chair of Stanford's Department of Political Science from 1996 through 2001. Weingast completed his Ph.D. in economics from the California Institute of Technology in 1977.

Weingast has received numerous awards, including the William H. Riker Prize, the Heinz Eulau Prize (with Ken Shepsle), the Franklin L. Burdette Pi Sigma Alpha Award, the James L. Barr Memorial Prize in Public Economics, the William H. Riker Prize for contributions to the advancement of the science of politics, the Distinguished Scholar Award in Public Policy, Martin School of Public Policy, University of Kentucky, and the Daniel Elazar Award for Distinguished Scholarly Contributions to the Study of Federalism and Intergovernmental Relations.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Weingast's research focuses on the political and legal foundation of markets. He has written extensively on problems of development, the rule of law, and democracy. His work emphasizes the centrality of violence for understanding problems of development - indeed, the median poor country experiences violent leadership turnover about once every 8 years. He has written Violence and Social Orders: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History (with Douglass C. North and John Joseph Wallis, 2009, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; translated into Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, and Russian). In a more recent paper, "The Violence Trap" (with Douglass C. North and Gary W. Cox), he develops a new theory of the effect of violence on development, suggesting that countries become trapped in a low development state.

Note: Papers, presentation slides and any other material provided by the Guest Lecturer will be made available some time after the lecture at Publications > Media & Speeches > Guest Lectures by Visiting Academics.

Venue map

Last updated: 
Tuesday, 21 April 2015