“Appease Workers without Losses: Autocracy and Progressive Labor Regulations” by Hsu Yumin Wang
March 10, 2021 @ 9:00 am – 10:00 pm JST
Author: Hsu Yumin Wang (Emory)
Abstract: Why do some authoritarian countries have more protective labor laws than others? Under what conditions would dictators improve labor regulations? To answer these questions, I develop a novel argument starting with the premise that dictators face and need to balance twin challenges from elites and masses to stay in power. In the literature, it is well-established that economic inequality is an important demand-side factor in pushing authoritarian leaders to implement redistribution to buy off revolutionary threats. However, a more protective labor law may decrease economic elites’ loyalty to current regimes because they may bear higher labor costs due to labor law reforms. Accordingly, dictators need to balance the elites’ losses and workers’ gains due to stricter labor regulations. I argue that an ineffective court system can help dictators realize this goal because it allows dictators to control the judicial process of labor disputes more easily to mitigate elites’ distributional losses caused by more protective labor law. As such, I anticipate that it is more likely to observe a positive effect of economic inequality on labor regulations when judicial effectiveness is low. I test the theoretical expectation by conducting time-series cross-section data analysis covering 68 autocracies from 1970 to 2008. I complement my quantitative analyses with an illustrative case from the 2008 Labor Contract Law in China.