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Joan Robinson (1903-1983), who worked in an era when few women economists were respected in the academy, was a pioneering theorist of capitalism. She rejected the neoclassical notion that just wages were naturally determined through competition among workers and capitalists, instead arguing that monopsonies—a single buyer enforcing prices on sellers—were an endemic feature of labor markets. 

In her classic 1933 book The Economics of Imperfect Competition, Robinson discusses how monopsony power leads to unequal or artificially low wages. 

From the book:

“Perfect discrimination is probably rare in buying labor, but imperfect discrimination may often be found. For instance there may be two types of workers whose efficiencies are equal but whose conditions of supply are different. It may be necessary to pay the same wage within each group, but the wages of the two groups may differ. A special case of discrimination arises when the men are organized in a trade union which enforces a minimum wage, and women are not. Then the supply of men is perfectly elastic and the supply of women is less than perfectly elastic. The amount of employment will be such that the demand price for labor is qual to the wage of the men. The marginal cost of each type of labor must be equal. Thus the number of women employed will be such that their marginal cost is equal to the minimum wage of the men; and the number of men will make up the difference between the number of women employed and the total amount of labor employed. Any rise or fall in the demand for labor would be met by fluctuations in the employment of men; the employment of women would remain constant until the demand curve for labor fell so low that no men were employed.” 

+  “On the plane of theory, the Keynesian revolution lay in the change from the conception of equilibrium to the conception of history; from the principles of rational choice to the problems of decisions based on guesswork or on convention.” From Robinson’s 1974 essay. Link. And a coauthored paper by Robinson and Amit Bhaduri on accumulation and exploitation. Link.

+  “The popular description of unemployment as ‘poverty in the midst of plenty’ contains a large element of truth.” From Joan Robinson’s Introduction to the Theory of EmploymentLink.

+  “For Robinson, the Keynesian theory of unemployment as the failure of effective demand can be complemented by Marx’s idea of non-employment: the supply of labor growing faster than the number of jobs offered by the capitalist economy.” By Carolina Alves. Link. And Michał Kalecki’s notes on Joan Robinson’s Essay on Marxist Economics, translated from Polish and introduced by Jan Toporowski. Link


Migration and Trade

ANNA BAIARDI is an assistant professor at ​Erasmus University Rotterdam. A recent paper coauthored with Christina Ammon examines how migration shapes trade in China. 

From the paper

“We empirically assess the long-term effect of migration on the exporting behavior of firms in the migrants’ origin country. We focus on ethnic migrant networks formed as a result of a mass migration wave of ethnic Cantonese people from the province of Guangdong in Southern China to the United States in the late 19th century. Using firm-level data for 2004 for Guangdong, we show that exposure to the Cantonese ethnic network has a positive effect on firms’ exports after several decades, both at the intensive and extensive margin. We also found that networks have a positive impact on other firm outcomes, such as employment, wages, high-skilled workers, domestic capital, and fixed assets.”

+ + +

+  “The RSF itself is a neoliberal army. It is the privatized version of an army in the third world, in a rural periphery.” New, Adam Benjamin interviews Magdi el Gizouli about the war in Sudan. Link

+  Next Wednesday, October 11, at 10am ET, join us for “Rules of Restraint,” an event with our friends at Made and Dezernat Zukunft, on the politics of fiscal rules. Link to register.

+  And this coming Thursday, October 5, at 4pm ET, join us and The Polycrisis for a panel discussion on the global politics of energy in the “mid-transition.” Link to register. 

+  “We find that in Brazil recessions led to the rise of religious fundamentalism in tandem with the transfer of political capital to elected Pentecostal leaders.” By Francisco Costa, Angelo Marcantonio, and Rudi Rocha. Link.

+  A report from Private Equity Stakeholder Project on how “private equity firms affect incarceration.” Link.

+  A report from Centre for Sustainable Employment on social identities and labor market outcomes in India. Link.

+  “We compare the home-mortgage terms offered to middle-income Whites in the New Deal era, with a contemporary New York City policy offered in formerly redlined districts.” By Naomi Zewde, Raz Edwards, and Erinn Bacchus

+  “A campaign to transfer the United States’ worst and most exploitative new labor laws and policies to Brazil has gone largely unnoticed.” Veena Dubal and Renan Kalil on the regulation of platform work in Brazil. Link.

+  Ahmed Mehdi and Tom Moerenhout “assess the impact of IRA supply-side policies on US battery economics to date.” Link.

+  “Race records were commercial recordings aimed strictly toward the Negro market. The Jazz Age can also be called the age of recorded blues and jazz because it was in the twenties that the great masses of jazz and blues material began to be recorded, and the race records sold in great numbers. Mamie Smith’s Crazy Blues sold for months at a rate of 8,000 records a week. Victoria Spivey’s Black Snake Blues, recoded six years later, sold 150,000 copies in one year. The success of race recordings soon led companies to record not only the classic blues singers but also a few boogie-woogie pianists and country singers as well. The larger record companies began setting up permanent Southern offices for the discovery of new talent, and some really ambitious companies like Columbia even had a mobile unit that roamed the South, recording people like Barbecue Bob, Peg Leg Howell, and Blind Willie Johnson. In October, 1929, the worst economic disaster this country has ever experienced shattered its relative prosperity. Not only did most night clubs and cabarets begin to close or lay off their performers, but the recording industry was ruined almost overnight. And predictably, it was the race records that were first to go.” By Amiri Baraka. Link

Each week we highlight research from a graduate student, postdoc, or early-career professor. Send us recommendations:

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