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American Economic Journal: Applied Economics: Vol. 1 No. 2 (April 2009)

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A Biological Model of Unions

Article Citation

Kremer, Michael, and Benjamin A. Olken. 2009. "A Biological Model of Unions." American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, 1(2): 150-75.

DOI: 10.1257/app.1.2.150

Abstract

This paper applies principles from evolutionary biology to the study of unions. We show that unions that implement the preferred wage and organizing policies of workers will be displaced in evolutionary competition by unions that either extract less from firms, allowing them to live longer, or spend more on union organizing, or both. This implies that unions with constitutional incumbency advantages that allow leaders to depart from members' preferences may have a selective advantage, allowing them to grow at the expense of unions lacking such provisions. Evidence from the history of American unions supports these predictions. (JEL A12, J51)

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Authors

Kremer, Michael (Harvard U and Center for Global Development)
Olken, Benjamin A. (MIT)

JEL Classifications

A12: Relation of Economics to Other Disciplines
J51: Trade Unions: Objectives, Structure, and Effects

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