13, 2002: Tracking
the way of the tire
Professor Alan Krueger and graduate student Alexandre Mas found
that strikes play a role in the product
between labor and management can be deadly for the people who use
the products made when workers are at odds with their employer,
economics professor Alan Krueger and graduate student Alexandre
Mas found in a recent paper. Two years ago, Firestone and Ford recalled
more than 14 million tires.
In Congressional hearings and lawsuits, observers wondered if
there was a connection between the faulty tires and the hostility
between workers at Firestone's Decatur, Illinois, plant and the
company between 1994 and 1996.
During that time, Firestone workers struck for the year, and the
company hired replacement workers to take their jobs. "We estimate
that more than 40 lives were lost as a result of the excessive number
of problem tires produced in Decatur during the labor dispute,"
Krueger and Mas write in their paper, "Sttrikes, Scabs and
Tread Separations: Labor Strife and the Production of Defective
Bridgestone/Firestone Tires." They suggest that perhaps 250
lives were saved by the recall.
"For some time, I have been interested in the effect of pay
on worker performance," said Krueger. While on leave as the
chief economist at the Department of Labor during the 1994-95 school
year, he said, "I also became interested in whether replacement
workers tend to produce lower-quality products." Instead, Krueger
and Mas concluded, that the increase in defective tires probably
stemmed from "something about the chemistry between the replacement
workers and the recalled strikers, or the cumulative effect of labor
strife in general."
Krueger has taught at Princeton since he received his doctorate
from Harvard in 1987. He heads Princeton's industrial relations
section, which supports graduate students in labor economics as
well as faculty and student research in the subject. He also directs
the university's Survey Research Center, which he helped found in
1992 in an effort to help students and faculty generate data for
"I believe students learn that statistics is much more than
a dry set of formulas if they are involved in analyzing data they
collected themselves, based on a survey they designed themselves,"
Krueger said. He pointed to a student who won a prize for her senior
thesis, which was the first paper to offer estimates of the amount
of tutoring that occurs outside of schools in the U.S. and compare
the U.S. and Japan in that regard.
In addition to his academic duties, Krueger writes an occasional
column for the Business Section of the New York Times. In one column,
he proposed giving vouchers to low-income children to pursue educational
programs during the summer, since some research finds that the children
of low-income families learn about as much during the school year
as do children of wealthy families but fall behind during the summers.
Education has been a central concerns of Krueger's research. "Given
the huge role that human capital plays in the economy, one cannot
fully understand the wealth of nations without understanding education,"
he said. "I've calculated that two-thirds of national income
is a return to acquired skills, with formal education being the
most important means to acquire skills."