Progressives vs. immigrants: the Bakeshop Act & Lochner v. New York

I’d like to see a book or long article that describes how organized interests gain at others’ expense from political mandates and controls that look benevolent on the surface.  (They probably exist, and feel free to suggest any.)  For example, consider what Damon Root at Reason magazine writes about “progressive” legislation that limits legal work hours:

New York’s 1895 Bakeshop Act … banned bakery employees from working more than 10 hours per day or 60 hours per week. In its 5-4 decision [Lochner v. New York (1905)], the Court nullified this provision for violating the liberty of contract secured by the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment. …

George Mason University legal scholar David Bernstein has thoroughly documented, the mainstream version of the Lochner story, which pits evil bosses against viciously exploited workers, bears zero resemblance to the historical evidence. The real origins of the Bakeshop Act lie in an economic conflict between unionized New York bakers, who labored in large shops, and their non-unionized, mostly immigrant competitors, who tended to work longer hours in small, old-fashioned bakeries. As Bernstein observed, “a ten-hour day law would not only aid those unionized workers who had not successfully demanded that their hours be reduced, but would also help reduce competition from nonunionized workers.”

To put it another way, Lochner v. New York secured a fundamental right against arbitrary government interference while undercutting an act of naked economic protectionism.

This is an example of what economist Bruce Yandle calls “Bootleggers and Baptists”:

Here is the essence of the theory: durable social regulation evolves when it is demanded by both of two distinctly different groups. “Baptists” point to the moral high ground and give vital and vocal endorsement of laudable public benefits promised by a desired regulation. Baptists flourish when their moral message forms a visible foundation for political action. “Bootleggers” are much less visible but no less vital. Bootleggers, who expect to profit from the very regulatory restrictions desired by Baptists, grease the political machinery with some of their expected proceeds. They are simply in it for the money.

Examples I can think of include:

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5 Comments

Filed under economics, politics

5 responses to “Progressives vs. immigrants: the Bakeshop Act & Lochner v. New York

  1. nub

    “Anti-trust laws to squash competition”??? A statement that contrarian requires a bit more of an explanation than what you have provided.

  2. wakalix

    Yes, I agree. The anti-trust claim is rather bold. It could use more support. That's one reason I linked the book for further reading.

  3. nub

    “Anti-trust laws to squash competition”??? A statement that contrarian requires a bit more of an explanation than what you have provided.

  4. wakalix

    Yes, I agree. The anti-trust claim is rather bold. It could use more support. That's one reason I linked the book for further reading. I just added a link to this op-ed:http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp…It's not a comprehensive treatise or knock-down drag out argument, but a start.

  5. Pingback: Once upon a time the Supreme Court got it right…- Between The Lines

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