My interests lie in the broad trends and shifts in global capitalism. My dissertation centers on historical development, contingency, and struggle over terms of automation, regulatory policy, labor law, real estate investment and redevelopment, and trade policy. At the most abstract, the outcome of this struggle held, and continues to hold significant implications for where work is done, by whom, and under what conditions. Broadly, I explore the multi-varied factors undergirding our disaggregated economy. Or, put differently, my work focuses on the historical arc of how the point of production has grown ever more remote from the point of consumption. To bring these developments into focus, my project centers on the struggle between labor and capital over the terms of labor saving technologies, regulatory policies, redevelopment, and business practices in the longshore, drayage, warehouse & distribution sectors in Southern California from the 1930s through the present.Click here to read more of Halvorsen's dissertation abstract.
In my dissertation, I weave the narrative arc of these localized developments with those that take place on a far larger scale. Some contingent technological developments in longshoring and some contested changes to regulatory structure occurred on international and national scale, respectively. For example, the Pacific Maritime Association (PMA), the shipping concern, negotiated the terms of automation with the International Longshoring and Warehousing Union (ILWU) in the mid-to-late 1950s. The outcome of those negotiations provided the framework for the Modernization & Mechanization Agreement of 1960 (M & M Agreements – the five year renewable collective bargaining agreement between the ILWU & the PMA). The M & M Agreements laid important contractual groundwork for introducing labor-saving technologies, such as the shipping container, and worked to eliminate supposed ‘featherbedding,’ or ‘make work rules,’ which the union militantly held on to from the 1930s. On the East, Gulf, and Great Lakes, the International Longshoreman’s Association (ILA) negotiated similar terms for their members. The Teamsters also navigated these new technologies through bargaining agreements and jurisdictional boundaries between port truckers and stevedores. Einar Mohn, the Teamsters’ (IBT) Western Conference Director, worked with Lou Goldblatt, the ILWU’s Secretary-Treasurer, among others, to draw up similar terms for the trucking industry during this same period. The Modernization & Mechanization Agreements largely stemmed from the Maritime Cargo Transportation Conference (MCTC) — an initiative led by the Departments of Defense and Commerce, which received funding and support through the National Research Council (NRC) and the National Academy of Sciences, and carried out studies at the Port of Oakland’s Naval Supply Center and a few commercial piers at the Port of San Francisco from 1957-1964. This extensive period of research not only provided the impetus for radically renegotiated terms and conditions governing longshore work through collective bargaining, this period of study also aided shipping interests in their efforts to introduce labor-saving technologies at ports.
This period of collaborative and through research was largely carried out under the auspices of the Maritime Cargo Transportation Conference. These studies involved ILWU, PMA, Matson, the Army Corps of Engineers, logistical specialists from the Logistics Agency (DLA) in the Department of Defense (DOD), and researchers from the University of California (UC), among others. Researchers, industry, and labor focused on nearly every form of unitized cargo, from shipping containers to pallet jacks. Logistics specialists and labor economists carefully weighed these various forms of productivity-enhancing technologies against the economic feasibility of significant port and harbor redevelopment, or fixed capital investments in a ‘cost-benefit’ form of analysis. Though the union initially agreed to the labor saving technologies, in large part to the PMA’s no layoff guarantee, the ILWU’s 134 day strike in 1971-72 largely functioned as a repudiation of some terms laid out in the M & M Agreement of 1966. The outcome of this accommodation and struggle not only reshaped harbor infrastructure and work; it also facilitated the dispersal of warehousing and logistics facilities from the harbor to the urban fringe in greater Southern California’s Inland Empire, a vast, expansive region east of Los Angeles, while a handful of National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), Appellate Court, and Supreme Court rulings in the mid-to-late 1970s confined ILWU’s jurisdictional reach to the docks and harbor. But technological innovations at the harbor only proved to be part of the shifting geography of fixed capital investments in warehousing and distribution; wide-scale deregulation fundamentally altered the political and economic arrangements governing trucking sectors, including drayage, or short-haul trucking.
Indeed, regulatory institutions — which under-girded the economics of trucking and encompassed everything from shipping rates to market entry — withered under the attacks from deregulation proponents. This regulatory arrangement — largely set by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) at the interstate level, and by public utility commissions at the intrastate level –shaped the political and economic structure of the industry. I explore how the perplexities of stagflation in the 1970s presented economists and policy makers with a thorny political problem. Stagflation’s dangerous mix of high unemployment and high inflation upended most economic orthodoxy and macro-economic policy modeled on the Phillips Curve. This period of economic uncertainty also allowed marginal economic ideas to enter the political mainstream. This was in part due to the unexplained nature of stagflation and in part due to the neoclassical synthesis, which allowed economists’ micro-economic work to be extrapolated to a macro-economic context. Economists’ studies that focused on ‘rigidities’ in shipping rate and labor market proved to be particularly damning to regulatory institutions such as the ICC. It is in this context that stagflation provided the conditions for these studies to be weaponized against supposed government-induced inflation by positioning their analysis and interpretative claims against the cost of regulation to the consumer against regulations’ social benefit. Put differently, these works positioned regulation as a supposed ‘drag’ on the economy, and thus supported the claim of government-induced inflation.
Though not necessarily new, these arguments took shape and gained political purchase at the Ford Administration’s Summit Conference on Inflation in 1974. Policy prescriptions on supposed government-induced inflation drew from works from several economists, most notably Thomas Moore of Stanford’s Hoover Institute and Hendrik Houthakker of Harvard. At the Summit Conference on Inflation, Moore & Houthakker’s policy agenda aided and advanced the case for deregulation. This position was supported, validated, and endorsed by luminaries such as Milton Friedman, Arthur Okun, Walter Heller, Otto Eckstein, Alan Greenspan, Paul MacAvoy, Herbert Stein, Paul McCracken, Paul Samuelson, Gerald Ford, Nelson Rockefeller, and Texan Senator John Tower (R), among others. Only the AFL-CIO’s economist Nathaniel Goldfinger and liberal economist and public intellectual John Kenneth Galbraith questioned the effectiveness of these policy prescriptions in having any actual measurable effect on inflation. Though I focus the narrative of my dissertation on arguments and political alignments around the ICC and motor carrier regulation, this policy hit-list also targeted between 22 and 45 ‘sacred cows’ to be slaughtered. This included most banking and investment, prevailing wage provisions, retail price maintenance, and communication regulatory institutions and structures, among others.
Regulators, such as the ICC’s A. Daniel O’Neal, responded by altering regulatory structure of their institutions to undercut criticisms. However, the political momentum behind deregulation, combined with broad and thorough press coverage on regulatory inefficiencies and their effect on inflation, and validation from influential economists who championed the efficiencies of a market-governed economy — all worked to reshape the regulatory landscape. Regulatory reform and eventual deregulation significantly altered the economics of trucking, which firms and labor alike operated under from the mid-1930s through the late 1970s. Throughout regulatory reform, and eventual deregulation, industry and labor alike adapted, struggled, exploited and accommodated this altered economic landscape. Large scale regulatory reform also held implications for business practices in most sectors of trucking, including drayage. For example, the shift from a directly-employed workforce to one built around a pool of independent operators allowed firms to shift an employee’s pay structure from an hourly basis to a per trip basis, and thus held implications for the economic feasibility for the locations of infrastructure like warehouses or distribution centers. Short haul truck drivers, rather than firms, had to bear these costs and this unpaid time through pay structures and long wait times at harbor and railheads. These incidents resulted in numerous wage theft and employment misclassification cases, which resulted in numerous cases before California’s Department of Industrial Relations, and resulted in cases which restored millions in unpaid payroll tax and wages. The sum of these changes altered the economic viability behind the geography of fixed capital investment built around transporting goods, such as transportation infrastructure proximity to harbor facilities; broadly, these regulatory reforms fundamentally reshaped the pricing and wage structures which altered the economic viability for plant, industrial and distribution facilities, and a business’s access to markets.
The sum of these historical developments held broad implications for most sectors of trucking and devastated the Teamsters’s efforts to retain an effective level of union density and control over the work and hiring process. But Southern California is far from exceptional. Ports such as Seattle, Tacoma, Oakland, San Francisco, South Louisiana, Houston, Jackson, Savannah, Charleston, Baltimore, and Elizabeth / New York, and inland transportation hubs such as Kansas City, Chicago, Omaha, Cincinnati, Las Vegas / Henderson, Reno / Sparks, Phoenix, etc. are also shaped by these larger developments.
I also explore the role of city officials and redevelopment agencies in tax strapped municipalities who often worked in conjunction with developers and real estate consultancy firms to secure developments in an effort to bolster their tax base in Southern California’s Inland Empire during the 1980s. Faced with deindustrialization, with Kaiser Steel’s Fontana plant and General Electric’s Hotpoint division both closing in the early 1980s, and an anemic tax base largely due to property tax limitations imposed by Proposition 13, several Inland Empire cities, such as Ontario, Fontana, and Rancho Cucamonga, took a firm pro-growth approach toward development. Often these developments took the form large footprint, low cost developments, such as warehouses, industrial parks, and retail outlets. Though these developments did indeed bring in much needed tax revenue, they offered few good paying employment opportunities. Though I focus on Southern California’s Inland Empire, it is in no way exceptional. During the same period similar developments shape the urban fringe around areas such as Las Vegas/Henderson, NV, Reno/Sparks, NV, Naperville, IL or greater Elizabeth, NJ / New York.
At the most abstract or macro level, my work implicitly addresses some burning questions in the sub-field of the history of capitalism — namely where work can viably be done, by whom, and under what conditions. Or, as William Cronon frames this in his history of Chicago and the Greater American West, how “the ecological place of production grew ever more remote from the economic point of consumption, making it harder and harder to keep track of the true costs and consequences of any particular product.” In doing so, my work engages Daniel Bell’s notion of the supposed post-industrial society, and the relatively unexplored sub-field within the history of capitalism, what historian Seth Rockman refers to as, “the submerged architecture—material, legal, and ideological,” of infrastructure, along with Harry Braverman’s work on automation, and Karl Polanyi’s theories on the double and counter-double movements.
I plan to study the historical development of human resource, industrial psychology, and time-motion/productivity departments in various industries, along with the historical development of approaches to business practices around pay and benefit packages, welfare capitalism, labor law, and employment classification in the United States during the 20th century. With this particular project, I would like to explore these historical trends and developments through instructional content from management and investment programs at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, Harvard Business School, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, and University of Chicago’s Booth School of Management, along with a few select law programs. Additionally, I plan to rely on records from trade publications, consultancy firms, financial assessments, law journals, and records detailing the state’s approaches and policies on industry and investment.
Click here for Halvorsen's future projects.
I’m also interested in researching the development and proliferation of branch plants in United States during 1920s and 1930s as an important stage in capital mobility and capital flight. And at some point, I’d also like to return to my undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Myles Horton and the Highlander Folk School and expand it to a study on efforts to organize Dixie through labor and civil rights movements by exploring the role of labor schools, voter drive organizations, education & literacy programs, anti-lynching campaigns, and tenant farmers’ unions, along with efforts to gain a political holds in Southern municipal and county positions, state parties, and represent the South at the Federal level from Reconstruction to the mid-1970s.
Political Economy; Labor History; Business History; History of Economic Thought; Policy History; History of Science, Industry, Medicine, & Technology; History of Capitalism; Legal History; History of Slavery & Reconstruction; East Asian Political Economy; Historiography; Digital Humanities; Critical Theory; Economic, Human, & Transport Geography
I grew up in a unionized working class household in Eau Clare, Wisconsin and became the first in my family to attend college when I enrolled at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. I later went on to complete my bachelor’s degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. After my undergraduate studies, I landed my first unionized job as a rank & file member of Harvard’s Union of Clerical & Technical Workers at Harvard’s History Department. While working there, I had the opportunity to meet a number of friends and academics who helped guide and frame my interests. My doctoral work at UCSB continues to benefit from my advisor Nelson Lichtenstein and the stimulating intellectual environment of the UCSB community. And my work for UAW 2865 provides me the fulfilling opportunity to represent unionized academic-student workers at the University of California.
MOVING GOODS, MOVING AMERICA: LABOR, TECHNOLOGY, POLICY, & THE STRUGGLE OVER NORTH AMERICA’S LARGEST PORT-LOGISTICS NEXUS