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Deconstructing the Monolith

The Microeconomics of the National Industrial Recovery Act

The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) was enacted by Congress in June of 1933 to assist the nation’s recovery during the Great Depression. Its passage ushered in a unique experiment in US economic history: under the NIRA, the federal government explicitly supported, and in some cases enforced, alliances within industries. Antitrust laws were suspended, and companies were required to agree upon industry-level “codes of fair competition” that regulated wages and hours and could implement anti-competitive provisions such as those fixing prices, establishing production quotas, and imposing restrictions on new productive capacity.
            The NIRA is generally viewed as a monolithic program, its dramatic and sweeping effects best measurable through a macroeconomic lens. In this pioneering book, however, Jason E. Taylor examines the act instead using microeconomic tools, probing the uneven implementation of the act’s codes and the radical heterogeneity of its impact across industries and time. Deconstructing the Monolith employs a mixture of archival and empirical research to enrich our understanding of how the program affected the behavior and well-being of workers and firms during the two years NIRA existed as well as in the period immediately following its demise.

224 pages | 17 halftones, 13 line drawings, 17 tables | 6 x 9 | © 2019

Markets and Governments in Economic History

Economics and Business: Economics--Government Finance, Economics--History


“Jason Taylor has meticulously detailed the largely neglected enormity of the National Industrial Recovery Act regulatory regime. He shows that behind its flawed macroeconomic objectives were a plethora of wage, hours, pricing, and output-restraining arrangements varying widely between industries. This book is truly a tour de force combining traditional historical scholarship with shrewd economic analysis.”

Richard Vedder, Ohio University

“Taylor delivers a fresh perspective on one of the most unusual episodes in American economic history. Taking advantage of a variety of new data sources and recent studies, he drills down to the microeconomic level to tease apart the effects of the NIRA on employment, collusion, and many other outcomes. Anyone interested in work sharing, cartels, or the Great Depression more broadly can benefit from this comprehensive study.”

Chris Vickers, Auburn University

“Taylor provides new insights into the operation of the National Industrial Recovery Act, encouraging us to explore its differential adoption and impact in different industries. His approach validates the desirability of moving away from a purely macroeconomic understanding of this important Depression-era legislation.”

Alexander J. Field, Santa Clara University

“A bold attempt on the part of the Roosevelt Administration to end the Great Depression, the National Industrial Recovery Act is viewed by many as a cause of both the depth and duration of the Great Depression. In this timely work, Taylor delves into the nuts and bolts of the legislation, focusing the key policy instrument, namely, the hundreds of codes of fair competition, which he shows had uneven effects on wages and employment. A must-read for all those with an interest in the Great Depression.”

Bernard Beaudreau, Université Laval

Table of Contents

1 Introduction
2 The Underpinnings, Precursors, and Development of the NIRA
3 The NIRA Code Negotiation Process
4 The President’s Reemployment Agreement of August 1933
5 Codes of Fair Competition: Industrial Planning and Collusion under the NIRA
6 The NIRA Compliance Mechanism in Theory and Practice
7 The Economics of Compliance and Enforcement and the NRA Compliance Crisis
8 The Schechter Decision and the Lingering Effects of the NIRA
9 Conclusion

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