The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972 Page: 138
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Southwestern Historical Quarterly
historians have rendered a disservice to the cause of scholarship, partic-
ularly since the economists themselves have been more and more dis-
posed to look down on 'mere history' as an unworthy mental dis-
Hopefully, both labor economists and historians will continue their
interest in labor history, because both groups have something to bring
to this increasingly important subject. Regardless of his specialized
discipline, the student of labor history must combine a talent for an-
alyzing historical material with a conceptual or theoretical framework
which separates basic relationships from insignificant or transient
Mere description of historical data clearly will yield very limited
understanding. On the other hand, mechanical application of theoret-
ical abstractions will yield equally limited results. Students of unions
and other labor market institutions will be more effective if they de-
velop some generalized conceptual framework in order to isolate
basic underlying forces involved in the origin and development of
unions and the impact of labor organizations on other social institu-
tions. Moreover, quantitative techniques can make it possible to at-
tach weights to the factors influencing the growth of unions and their
impact on wages, prices, politics, management, or other variables.
These quantitative techniques also might make it possible to say some-
thing about how long it will take for induced changes to work them-
selves out. Moreover, computers and increasingly reliable data make
it possible for scholars to gain new insights into causal relationships
and behavioral patterns.
On the other hand, the historian's perspective is important in order
to guard against some of the limitations of narrow theoretical abstrac-
tions. The economist's generalizations are likely to lead to difficulty
unless they are compatible with behavioral realities in the real world.
For example, wage-price guideposts which attempt to gear wage
changes to changes in productivity cannot be successfully implemented
on the basis of theoretical knowledge alone, as the Council of Econ-
omic Advisers has learned the hard way. Successful policy must be
based on valid conceptual constructs of basic causal forces, but they
also must be compatible with the behavioral patterns of unions, em-
ployers, and collective bargaining.
The student of labor history also must understand the relationship
xWalter Galenson, "Reflections on the Writing of Labor History," Industrial and Labor
Relations Review, XI (October, 1957) , 9-91.
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Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 75, July 1971 - April, 1972, periodical, 1972; Austin, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101201/m1/150/: accessed June 22, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Texas State Historical Association.