Democracy, Policy Interdependence, and Labor Rights

Date01 September 2017
AuthorZhiyuan Wang
Published date01 September 2017
Subject MatterArticles
Political Research Quarterly
2017, Vol. 70(3) 549 –563
© 2017 University of Utah
Reprints and permissions:
DOI: 10.1177/1065912917704517
Weakening labor rights can serve as a policy tool to
increase national economic competitiveness. In an era of
intensifying globalization, which is characterized by
states’ deep involvement in fiercer global economic com-
petition, exploiting this tool has produced considerable
negative externalities and, therefore, created strong pol-
icy interdependence among economically competing
states and led to the global deterioration of labor rights—
a race to the bottom (Davies and Vadlamannati 2013;
Mosley 2011; cf. Greenhill, Mosley, and Prakash 2009).
Along with reductions in capital-tax rates (e.g., Cao 2010;
Swank 2006) and a retrenchment of public spending (e.g.,
Lee and Strang 2006), the global deterioration of labor
rights constitutes additional evidence that globalization
constrains domestic policy choices by imposing a neolib-
eral economic model on national governments, substanti-
ating the lament that domestic political processes are
becoming increasingly inconsequential as globalization
intensifies (Przeworski and Yebra 2003). However, tight-
ening global constraints do not result in uniform policy
outcomes; instead, the relationship between the two is
mediated by domestic regimes. Scholars have investi-
gated the mediating role of domestic regimes for a range
of issue areas, but little research has been done on labor
rights in this regard.
Scholars have attempted to understand the mitigating
effects of regimes on the influence of international insti-
tutions on labor rights. Using a simple bivariate analysis,
a handful of regional studies have empirically investi-
gated the co-variation between regimes and labor rights,
revealing that, given the same exposure to pressure from
these institutions, democratic states in developing regions
are more likely to have better labor rights laws and prac-
tices (Anner and Caraway 2010; Burgess 2010; Cammett
and Posusney 2010; Caraway 2010; L. J. Cook 2010).
But these pioneering studies do not examine how regimes
interfere in the relationship between globalization and
labor rights.
Among the few exceptions, Mosley’s (2008, 2011)
work theorizes the role of domestic institutions in miti-
gating the adverse effects of globalization. Nonetheless,
Mosley’s theory relies heavily on institutions that are
largely endogenous to domestic regimes. In addition,
Mosley’s (2011) empirical strategy is designed to assess
how domestic institutions mitigate the negative impact of
trade on labor rights, but not how domestic regimes shape
policy responses to international pressure to restrict labor
In this study, I examine how domestic regimes mitigate
pressure from economically competing states to reduce
the protection of labor rights. I argue that democratic
704517PRQXXX10.1177/1065912917704517Political Research QuarterlyWang
1Bryn Mawr College, PA, USA
Corresponding Author:
Zhiyuan Wang, Department of Political Science, Bryn Mawr College,
100D, Dalton Hall, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, USA.
Democracy, Policy Interdependence,
and Labor Rights
Zhiyuan Wang1
In this study, I examine how domestic regimes mitigate pressure from economically competing states to reduce
the protection of labor rights. I argue that democratic states provide higher protection and are more resistant to
this downward policy pressure for two main reasons. Directly, democracy empowers workers through freedom of
association and enfranchisement. Indirectly, democracy offers better protection of property rights, which lessens the
need to use labor rights as an economic incentive. I also argue that this resistance to the downward pressure is more
pronounced in practice than in law. These expectations are supported through spatial analyses of a new global dataset
on association and collective-bargaining rights for the period 1994–2012. The results remain robust to alternative
measures of labor rights, different model specifications, and various econometric estimators.
democracy, policy interdependence, labor rights, spatial econometrics, globalization

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