Davis-Bacon: Racist Pork

The moderate wing of the liberal blogosphere is abuzz over President's Bush's suspension of the Davis-Bacon Act in the Katrina zone. In essence, Davis-Bacon requires federally subsidized construction contractors to pay union wages and follow union work rules. Some moderate Democrats, now represented by Mickey Kaus in the blogosphere, have opposed Davis-Bacon for years because it raises the costs of government construction while favoring established contractors and skilled union workers over their less-established competitors. Other Democrats, however, ably represented by Matt Yglesias, argue that Davis-Bacon helps unions, and unions help the Democrats and liberal causes more generally, so Davis-Bacon is a good thing, even if it's a wasteful law.

I've written a fair amount about Davis-Bacon, and especially its blatantly racist origins. My first paper on the subject, published by the Cato Institute way back in 1993, can be found here. More comprehensive research resulted in chapter 3 of my book, Only One Place of Redress: African Americans, Labor Regulations and the Courts from Reconstruction to the New Deal, which I've temporarily put online here. I doubt any objective observer could read this chapter and believe labor union denials (expressed in a paper, apparently not available online, entitled "The Davis-Bacon Act: A Response to the CATO Institute’s Attack," by the AFL-CIO, Building and Construction Trades Department), that Davis-Bacon was motivated in significant part by the desire to exclude African Americans from federal construction jobs.

Last week, someone from the New York Times asked me to write a short piece arguing that Davis-Bacon should be repealed. The Times ultimately declined to run the piece, but I reprint it, in a slightly longer version below.

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