LPE Approaches to Migration and the Labor Market

This post comes out of the early career workshop ‘Law and Political Economy in Europe’which took place at the Centre for Socio-Legal Studies, at the University of Oxford, on the 7th of October 2019. For all the posts this series, click here.

Manoj Dias-Abey –

PoliticsineuropePlenty of leftists continue to make the case for limiting migration and enforcing border restrictions. For example, in the UK, union leader and close Jeremy Corbyn ally Len McCluskey maintains that the “influx of people willing to work for less money and put up with a lower standard of living” drives down wages. Even Bernie Sanders has come perilously close to sanctioning a nationalist and protectionist stance when it comes to migration by arguing that “open borders” is a Koch brothers’ conspiracy.

Whether we give credence to these claims will depend on how we conceptualize labor markets. If we accept the fiction of national labor markets, and further assume that these markets are governed by the forces of demand and supply, then perhaps these claims might ring true. However, if we understand that labor markets are created by institutions and social forces, then we might look to factors other than supply to explain the phenomenon of declining wages and deteriorating working conditions. In this short post, my aim is to provide two alternative ways of seeing labor markets, and to trace how the impact of migration might be conceived within each. In setting out the neoclassical economists’ vision of labor markets and contrasting it with conceptualizations by more heterodox economists, I pay particular attention to the role attributed to law in each of the models.

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