Epstein on Executive Orders and the Labor Market

Let’s Kill All the Jobs
Richard A. Epstein
Defining Ideas
February 8, 2011

The news on employment last past week was regrettably familiar. There was a small increase of 36,000 workers after a somewhat more robust performance this past December. But that increase is not enough to keep pace with the population increase. Too many learned economists look for a macroeconomic fix for what is at root a dense network of microeconomic problems. Any initiatives designed to manipulate the money supply or the interest rates may well impact investments, savings, and growth. However, what really matters for labor markets is, well, employment policy.

Here is a simple proposition: Labor markets should, in principle, be allowed to run free, without the burden of state-mandated collective bargaining laws, antidiscrimination laws, family and medical leave protection, and minimum wages.

We are far from that ideal today, but the good news is that the Republican majority in the House will block any new legislation regulating the labor markets, such as the Employee Free Choice Act with its dangerous card-check and compulsory arbitration provisions. The bad news, however, is that unilateral actions by the executive branch, like executive orders, can still wreak havoc on labor markets—which is precisely what President Obama’s recent executive order will do.