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  • Cited by 2
  • Print publication year: 2009
  • Online publication date: June 2012

1 - Institutions and Wages in Post–World War II America


A rising tide lifts all the boats.

John F. Kennedy, October 15, 1960

Simultaneous and identical actions of United States Steel and other leading steel corporations, increasing steel prices by some 6 dollars a ton, constitute a wholly unjustifiable and irresponsible defiance of the public interest.

John F. Kennedy, April 11, 1962


This chapter was written for a particularly lovely occasion. One of the authors began his teaching career in the Berkeley economics department in 1967. For someone raised and educated on the East Coast, Berkeley was a lot to absorb: no winters, supermarket vegetables looking like they were grown in the Garden of Eden, a campus constantly going up in flames – usually figuratively but sometimes literally. The transition was made much easier by a welcoming faculty, with Lloyd Ulman at the head of the line. Lloyd took the time to explain how to negotiate the University of California system and constantly offered support – always moral, financial when it was needed. We appreciated being part of this occasion where we could return some of that goodwill.

In what follows, we deviate somewhat from the conference theme of new labor-market institutions. We focus instead on old labor-market institutions and their impact on the U.S. “Golden Age” of 1947–1973. A central feature of that Golden Age was mass upward mobility: individuals saw sharply rising incomes through much of their career and each successive generation was living better than the last.

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