On Labor Markets and Wandering Workers

Some years ago I published a book on labor market reforms. In fact it was my PhD thesis. What I did was to investigate all reforms in written labor market regulation that did take place in Western Europe between 1950 and 2008. That was a lot of reading through labor laws and rules, and coding changes of them according to a newly developed scheme that compromised some 40 items and different levels of reforms.

Here is the reference including a Full-text link: Jäkel, Tim. „Arbeitsmarktreformen. Eine Empirisch-Vergleichende Analyse Für 16 Westeuropäische Länder 1950 Bis 2008.“ Heidelberg: Universitätsbibliothek der Universität Heidelberg, 2011. URL: http://www.ub.uni-heidelberg.de/archiv/12204

In the end I identified and coded some 450 reforms. I found that labor in Germany is more tightly regulated compared to Denmark. But I also found that Greece was among the countries with a tight grip on the labor market as, well. But markets forces were set free in a several important areas in recent years.

What drives labor market reforms? Well, I found that center right-wing parties tend to loosen or to abolish restrictions more heavily compared to their social democratic counterparts – which not really comes at a big surprise and confirms Douglass Hibbs seminal proposition that parties make a difference.

But two things were missing in my analysis: the first one being the impact of the financial and economic crisis 2010 on labor market regulation. Not my fault, I started before the real estate bubble busted in 2008 and I just finished, when the crisis was still not over. We know now that Germany’s labor market performed quite well in times of crisis. This resilience was the harvest of prior reforms. Greece, in turn, performed less than bottom line. Working contracts had (and have) been tightly restricted to protect insiders from a young labor force. Youth unemployment skyrocketed up to 25% and more.

The second thing that I would add in a follow-up study is the perception of all this by regular people. What does a worker on the ground thinks about all this rule and policy-making? What are their motives and beliefs? What drives them to move to one place to another just looking for work (a labor economists would term this job mobility)?

Juri Plusnin, Yana Zausaeva, Artemy Pozanenko and Natalia Zhidkevich from the Higher School of Economics in Moscow wrote a book exactly about that. What they did was to conducted field research on domestic labor migrants in small villages and town in European Russia during 2011 and 2014 to investigate something that sociologist call a phenomenon, but that is in fact a regular thing for a large share of the Russian workforce: Being a Wandering worker.

Two of the authors, Artemy Pozanenko and Natalia Zhidkevich, presented their findings at the 6th Public Administration Discussion Meeting as the Higher School of Economics yesterday. Natalia and Artemy are both working as analysts at the HSE Laboratory for Local Administration. We should mention that their book Wandering Workers: Mores, Behavior, Way of Life, and Political Status of Domestic Russian Labor Migrants (2015. Publisher: ibidem Verlag Stuttgart) was recently nominated for the Distinguished Scholarly Monograph Award in the American Sociological Association’s Section on Labor and Labor Movements. Congratulations!

Save the date: The next Public Administration Discussion Meeting will take place on Monday, 18 April, 3pm at Higher School of Economics, 20, Myasnitskaya ulitsa, Moscow. Professor Robert Kramer from the National University of Public Service in Budapest will present a new paper on the shift from Skillset to Mindset in Policy-Leadership.


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