In a recent post, Economist Bryan Caplan takes on a flawed history textbook. He proposes an alternative text about the Industrial Revolution:
Working conditions during the early Industrial Revolution were bad by modern standards, but a major improvement by the standards of the time. Factory work looked good to people raised on backbreaking farm labor – and it looked great to the many immigrants who flocked to the rising centers of industry from all over the world. This alliance of entrepreneurs, inventors, and workers peacefully kickstarted the modern world that we enjoy today.
He follows up with a quote on the efficiency of Unions:
And what of the “workers’ movement”? A halfway decent textbook would emphasize that it wasn’t quantitatively important. Few workers belonged, and they didn’t get much for their efforts. Indeed, “workers’ movement” is a misnomer; labor unions didn’t speak for most workers, and were often dominated by leftist intellectuals. A fully decent textbook would discuss the many possible negative side effects of labor market regulation and unionization – so students realize that the critics of economic populism were neither knaves nor fools.
Which calls to mind this Mises lecture. Major Episodes in American Labor History: An Austrian Reevaluation, Part II