David R. Henderson  

The Origin of Origin Laws

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Bryan Caplan asks the normative question, "Is anyone willing to often even a semi-plausible economic argument in defense of mandatory national origin labels?"

I'm not. But I do have an answer to this positive question: what is the origin of national origin labels? In the United States, it's labor union racism. Here's what Morgan Reynolds wrote in his Concise Encyclopedia of Economics article, "Labor Unions":

Economist Ray Marshall, although a prounion secretary of labor under President Jimmy Carter, made his academic reputation by documenting how unions excluded blacks from membership in the 1930s and 1940s. Marshall also wrote of incidents in which union members assaulted black workers hired to replace them during strikes. During the 1911 strike against the Illinois Central, noted Marshall, whites killed two black strikebreakers and wounded three others at McComb, Mississippi. He also noted that white strikers killed ten black firemen in 1911 because the New Orleans and Texas Pacific Railroad had granted them equal seniority. Not surprisingly, therefore, black leader Booker T. Washington opposed unions all his life, and W. E. B. DuBois called unions the greatest enemy of the black working class. Another interesting fact: the "union label" was started in the 1880s to proclaim that a product was made by white rather than yellow (Chinese) hands. [emphasis mine]


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CATEGORIES: Labor Market



COMMENTS (2 to date)
Jacob writes:

The origin of the term "union label" may have been its use as a national origin label, but that does not mean that the terms "union label" and "national origin label" share the same origin. You are equivocating the "national origin label" from the Encyclopedia with the "national origin label from Brian's post--the latter is de jure, the former is merely de facto. Their meanings are distinct.

This is a classic example of the logical fallacy of shifting meanings. I wouldn't be surprised to see it used in a question on the LSAT in a few years.

oakeshott writes:

China. Lead based paint on children's toys; contaminated dog food etc. It's a useful indicator of quality - possibly more useful than traditional branding given the disconnect between the brand name and the actual manufacturers.

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