We break down an MCAT CARS passage about how industrialists dealt with labor shortages and changing labor laws in the late 1800s.
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[01:29] Passage 5 (Questions 24-29)
Passage 5, Paragraph 1
By the early 19th century, English industrialists were no longer even considering the possibility of a labor shortage. Malthusian ideas had reached such popularity that it was assumed that geometric expansion of the lower classes would always provide a ready supply of cheap labor. Yet by the late 1860s and early 1870s, limits on the labor pool began to surface. The Labor movement, designed to protect workers’ rights, began to alter the texture of the relationship between industrialists and workers in a number of ways that reduced the available labor pool: child labor laws reducing the availability of very young workers, trade unions designed to protect workers, and competition from other sources of employment.
Note: Looking at the big picture, the author is saying that at the beginning, we thought we’d never run out of workers. Then they’re starting to unionize and with child labor laws, we need more workers. The Malthusian view of economic expansion is something that the AAMC requires you to know in the psych social section. So you should have an idea of what that is. The Malthusian idea is just that the population will increase exponentially forever until we’re all starving to death because there are not enough resources.
[03:51] Passage 5, Paragraph 2
As far as the availability of workers, the Labor movement had its largest impact in England through limiting the number of hours a worker could be required to work in a day (and eventually in a week). Concern about worker exploitation resulted in the Trade Union Act of 1871, which legalized the formation of unions. Rather than immediately demand increased pay or safer working conditions, the unions first moved to limit working hours. In response, employers began employing around-the-clock shifts for the first time in their production centers. Another associated limitation was the increase in worker pay that allowed more households to survive on a single income. Many young women who had previously worked alongside their husbands in factories began leaving the workforce to bear and raise children.
Note: A lot of things are going on here. They have to start doing shifts and now that’s also going to cut into your worker pool. If before the husband and wife both had to work, now only one of them has to work.
[04:46] Passage 5, Paragraph 3
To solve the problem of shortages in the labor pool, industrialists near the end of the 19th century generally took one of two paths: increased efficiency or labor-pool diversification. The usual diversification path was what we would now call “outsourcing” although in 1890 this meant moving factories out of England to Ireland or Scotland, rather than to another continent. While Scotland was (and continues to be) under the purview of the Parliament of the United Kingdom (and thus subject to the Trade Union Act of 1871 and the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act of 1875), the militancy of labor movement activists was notably attenuated outside of London-area manufacturing centers. The efficiency path, on the other hand, sought to get the largest possible amount of productivity from each work-hour. This approach included everything from technological advances to make manufacturing machines more efficient, improvements in machine design to allow faster, easier and more effective worker movements (what we would now think of as ergonomics), to simply pushing workers harder with both incentives and punishments.
Note: In order to get more out of their workers, they would outsource or they would just make their people really efficient.
[06:10] Passage 5, Paragraph 4
At the dawn of the 20th century, more and more manufacturing firms moved towards efficiency rather than diversification. Nonetheless, this move was hampered by repressive laws in both Ireland and Wales that made it difficult for labor unions to organize and effectively lobby for better worker protections. Several high-profile bankruptcies by companies that had invested heavily in efficiency improvements (almost entirely unrelated to the improvements themselves) also scared some from pursuing this path. Shareholders and financiers, concerned about the next month rather than the next decade (then as now), often discouraged plant operators from making heavy up-front investments in changes to machinery and policy that would have allowed better production even with reduced labor hours available. Despite these trends, England remained well ahead of manufacturing efficiency in both the US and continental Europe, with the average English factory worker producing nearly $6.50 in value for every $1 paid (a ratio nearly double the averages elsewhere).
Note: It says, “the move was hampered by repressive laws,” so the author thinks they’re repressive. And we care a lot about the author’s viewpoint. Despite all these issues, companies in England were still making a lot of money after paying their workers. And you’d notice a little bit more of a history passage with a bunch of details. And just latch on to those contrasts – these two different viewpoints as well as the pros and cons of the efficiency method, which they go into in the last paragraph as well.
[07:57] Question 24
The passage suggests that the Conspiracy and Protection of Property Act of 1875 was intended to:
- protect the interests of large property owners.
- prevent labor union organizing by labeling it an illegal conspiracy.
- protect the interests of workers.
- help industrialists increase profits by creating more favorable labor conditions.
Answer choices A, B, and D are all saying the same thing where it’s helping the people who own the company.
Correct Answer: C
[10:24] Question 25
Suppose new data were discovered revealing that the average US factory worker actually produced over $7 in value for every $1 paid in wages near the end of the 19th century. This new information would:
- be irrelevant to the author’s main discussion.
- undermine the central assumption underpinning the author’s argument.
- further strengthen the notion that workers in continental Europe were particularly inefficient.
- somewhat undermine the author’s point about child labor laws.
The question comes to what is really the author’s main discussion here. And the author is highlighting what these companies were doing. They either increase efficiency or diversify their labor pool. And it was using Europe as an example and showing the increased efficiency and highlighting how they were able to increase efficiency by showing that $6.50. It’s just showing another example of efficiency being rolled out in the U.S. versus Europe. The author didn’t say that Europe was the best in the world at doing this. It just said it was good and better than a lot of places.
The last sentence of the passage talks about England remaining well ahead of the U.S. The question is about the end of the 19th century, and so by then it wasn’t still the case. And even then, the whole passage is really about just what’s going on in England.
Correct Answer: A
[12:31] Question 26
Which of the following events would most likely have pushed manufacturers more strongly towards an efficiency path?
- Labor laws in Scotland and Ireland reducing the length of the workday to fewer hours than was permissible in England
- Irish politicians and lawyers having an increasing tendency to “look the other way” when confronted with labor law abuses by factory managers
- A baby boom in the early 19th century creating a large pool of able-bodied adults in mid to late 19th century in Scotland
- Increasing educational attainment by English women in the 19th century having no effect on overall fertility rates until well into the 20th century
Looking at answer choice A, of course, you want to be efficient during those reduced hours. But that potentially would also increase the need to diversify and get labor outside of where you are. They mentioned Scotland and Ireland in paragraph 3 of the passage. They talked about how the laws really weren’t enforced there. They were saying the diversification path is what we would now call outsourcing. Although in 1898, this meant moving factories to Ireland or Scotland.
Looking at answer choice B, it’s saying we have these laws and we’re going to ignore them. So we don’t need to be efficient. So it doesn’t seem to be the right answer.
Looking at C, again, it’s having more people to work so you don’t need to be efficient. That’s the whole point of the passage was we assumed that we were going to have lots of people to do all the work. So we don’t need to be efficient or look at other places to do the work. So that doesn’t make sense. And answer choice D doesn’t just make sense.
The idea was we were diversifying by pushing people to Ireland or Scotland. And if all of a sudden, Ireland and Scotland had the same, or even worse, working laws, then I don’t want to send my people there to work because that doesn’t help. That’s why I had to leave England and go to Scotland because I was able to do all the illegal stuff there with my workers.
And so if all of a sudden, Scotland and Ireland don’t allow that either, then why am I outsourcing? That seems like a waste of time and energy. So I can’t do the diversification path, which means I have to do the efficiency path.
Correct Answer: A
[17:02] Question 27
The passage most strongly implies which of the following?
- Before the increases in efficiency at the turn of the 20th century, the average English worker was less productive than her American or European counterparts.
- Prior to 1871, an English worker could face legal sanctions (fines, imprisonment, etc.) for trying to organize a labor union.
- The majority of new factories set up in Scotland and Ireland between 1850 and 1900 were set up by English owners seeking more favorable labor conditions.
- Prior to 1871, factories owners only ever utilized a single shift of workers.
D is using a strict language which is the “only ever.” So it’s something that makes you want to run in the other direction. It’s a really extreme answer saying that they could only have ever done this.
Both B and D have some relevance to the passage itself. And a lot of times, students might pick A or C if they’re reasoning outside the text. And so if you’re reasoning using the text, B and D would feel right. However, B is less extreme compared to D which makes it the correct answer.
Correct Answer: B
[21:56] Question 28
The author would most likely be in favor of which of the following company policies?
- Solving labor shortages through mergers and acquisitions of companies with large labor pools
- Outsourcing manufacturing to Third World nations with no real labor protections
- Avoiding expenditures on improving machinery as an unnecessary cost
- Fiscal planning that seeks long-term advantages even when there are short-term costs
The author doesn’t give much opinion in the passage, but they do give it when they said, that despite these, we still were able to be very productive. Note that the last paragraph is really the only time where they talked about this. They also mentioned the repressive laws that made it difficult to form labor unions. So the author here is pro-union.
Correct Answer: D
[24:35] Question 29
Which of the following assertions is inconsistent with the facts as presented in the passage?
- Most upper-class English citizens in the 19th century favored diversification as a means of coping with labor shortages.
- Political movements designed to protect workers’ rights had the effect of limiting the available labor pool.
- With increases in globalization, outsourcing has become a standard means of increasing available labor in the 21st century.
D.For the last century, Scotland has had its own devolved parliament which both permits and requires it to pass all of its own laws.
Looking at answer choice A, “most upper class English citizens in the 19th century,” and the first sentence of the last paragraph is the dawn of the 20th century, more were moving towards efficiency, which means before they were doing diversification.
Looking at answer choice B, political movements designed to protect workers rights have the effect of limiting the available labor pool. And that’s the entire second paragraph that led to these issues.
Looking at answer choice C with increased globalization, outsourcing has become a standard means of increasing available labor. They actually mentioned in the third paragraph, the usual diversification path, was what we would now call outsourcing.
And so A, B, and C are all consistent with the passage while D doesn’t make any sense because Scotland doesn’t have its own parliament.
Correct Answer: D
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