EC 321 X - Labor Economics

Spring, 1999
MW 5 - 6:15 in CSS-232

Office:  Cornell Social Sciences Bldg. 259
Phone 646-2509  Fax 646-2485


This course is about the economics of employment and unemployment, wages and workers' incomes, and management-employee relations in the U.S. We will consider such questions as these: How do labor markets work? How well do they work? Why is there always unemployment? What things determine workers' wages and salaries? What do labor unions do? Why is union membership declining in the U.S. today? Why are real wages declining? The subject of labor economics is much broader than you might think, and is relevant for nearly all other subjects in economics. This course will survey both microeconomic and macroeconomic theories of labor and labor markets, as well as historical and institutional apects of the subject. We will examine also the apparently deteriorating material conditions of working people today, and some public policy approaches to correcting this development.

Most classes will have a lecture/discussion format, but there will also be several videos shown, guest appearances by local labor leaders, and possibly other special class events. Class attendence is not required, but it is very strongly recommended that besides reading and studying regularly you attend all classes: unannounced quizzes or special assignments will occasionally be given in class (videos, guest speakers and special events will be announced in advance), and lectures and discussions will very frequently focus on matters not directly covered in the readings or homework. Do the assigned readings ahead of time (as scheduled below), so that you'll be prepared to participate intelligently in the class discussions and perform satisfactorily on unannounced quizzes, etc. Grades will be determined by your work on three in-class exams as scheduled below, a half-dozen homework assignments, and several quizzes or other special asignments. Unless you have strongly mitigating reason, late work on an assignment (or failure to show up for an exam, etc.) will result in stiff reductions in your grade on that item. If you must be late with an assignment or exam, see me ahead of time and we'll make arrangements.


Howard Wachtel, Labor and the Economy, 3rd Ed.

Lawrence Mishel, Jared Bernstein & John Schmitt, The State
of Working America, 1996-97

R. Emmett Murray, The Lexicon of Labor.

Dollars & Sense Special Issue "Democratizing Labor" (#219,
Sept/Oct 1998).

Other materials may be handed out in class or placed on reserve at the library.