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Free Traders for Card Check

Unmentioned in President Obama’s speech to Congress last night was the impending battle over “card check,” which promises to be anything but post-partisan. As conservatives debate how to defeat the Employee Free Choice Act — which, if passed, proponents argue would make it easier for workers to form unions — advocates of the law have fired their own salvo, a letter of support from more than three dozen prominent economists, including two Nobel Prize winners.

The statement, released by the Economic Policy Institute today, states:

“Although its collapse has dominated recent media coverage, the financial sector is not the only segment of the U.S. economy running into serious trouble. The institutions that govern the labor market have also failed, producing the unusual and unhealthy situation in which hourly compensation for American workers has stagnated even as their productivity soared.

EFCA, which would allow workers to unionize without a secret ballot, “is not a panacea,” the signatories say, “but it would restore some balance to our labor markets.”

Among the supporters are several economists better known for their neoclassical “free trade” convictions than defending unions — including Laura Tyson, a former adviser to President Clinton who sits on the boards of Morgan Stanley and ATT, and Jagdish Bhagwati, Columbia University professor and former adviser to the World Trade Organization.

The Nobel Prize-winning economists checking in for labor are Kenneth Arrow and Robert Solow, emeritus professors at Stanford and MIT respectively. Their support for unionization reflects an emerging viewpoint among many economists that a successful global free trade regime depends on the growth of strong social safety nets.

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