John S. Ahlquist

Associate Professor, School of Global Policy and Strategy, University of California, San Diego
Areas of Expertise:
  • Economic Growth & Innovation
  • Jobs & Workers
  • Unions & the Labor Movement

About John

Ahlquist has done substantial work examining the political and economic behavior labor unions. His work to date focuses on how legal and political institutions interact with unions’ organizational rules to affect union behavior and public policy. More generally he is concerned with how societies balance desires for fairness and equity with dynamic growth and innovation. Ahlquist teaches classes on the interactions between markets and government, the politics of income inequality, and applied statistics.


Can U.S. Unions Learn to Mobilize Workers in New Ways?

  • Margaret Levi



"Navigating Institutional Change: The Accord, Rogernomics, and the Politics of Adjustment in Australia and New Zealand" Comparative Political Studies 44, no. 2 (2010): 127-155.
Shows that government’s ability to negotiate with major economic interests to solve critical structural economic problems depends on the political transactions environment. Where government agents and key economic actors are engaged in long-term, repeated interaction, have long time horizons, and invest in monitoring and enforcement technologies, effective political exchange is more likely.
"Development, Trade, and Social Insurance" (with Erik Wibbels). International Studies Quarterly 55, no. 1 (2011): 125-149.
Links autarkic post–World War II economic development strategies with the emergence of insurance-based social policies (unemployment, disability, old-age pensions) in the developing world. Contrary to the experience of rich democracies, it is the more protectionist countries in the developing world that emphasize social insurance.
"Public Sector Unions Need the Private Sector (or: Why the Wisconsin Protests were Not Labor’s Lazarus Moment)" The Forum 10, no. 1 (May 2012).
Shows how extending collective bargaining rights to unions of public sector workers requires the prior existence of these rights among significant sections of the private sector economy. Demonstrates that American public sector unionism emerged where private sector unions were initially strong, and declining private sector unionism has eroded support for public sector union representation.
"Who Sits at the Table in the House of Labor? Rank-and-File Citizenship and the Unraveling of Confederal Organizations" Journal of Law, Economics, & Organization 29 (2012).
Shows that distributive conflict over who benefits from cooperation can cause organizational unravelling in confederally-structured organizations. This danger is most acute when there are large resource disparities across confederal affiliates, but appropriate organizational design can help.
In the Interests of Others: Leaders, Governance, and Political Activism in Membership Organizations (with Margaret Levi) (Princeton University Press, forthcoming).
Develops a new theory of leadership and organizational governance to explain why some organizations expand their scope of action to include political activism, especially around issues that have little to do with members’ immediate economic interests. Finds that the evidence drawn from an extensive study of transport industry unions in the United States and Australia is largely consistent with this theory and difficult to explain using other competing accounts; also uncovers evidence that participating in activist organizations can induce profound transformations in rank-and-file members’ beliefs about their political efficacy.

In the News

"Hungarians Go to the Polls Today. But are Voters Enough to Protect Democracy?," John S. Ahlquist (with Nahomi Ichino, Jason Wittenberg, and Daniel Ziblatt), The Washington Post, April 8, 2018.
John S. Ahlquist quoted in Phil McCausland and Melanie Bencosme, "High Teacher Turnover Helps Fuel Educators' March on Statehouses" NBC News, April 8, 2018.
John S. Ahlquist quoted in Editorial Board, "The Success of the Voter Fraud Myth" New York Times, September 19, 2016.
Interview on political partiesJohn S. Ahlquist, Bloomberg, July 31, 2015.
John S. Ahlquist quoted on how dockworkers cannot be outsourced in Chris Kirkham and Andrew Khouri, "Dockworker Union Protected Pay, Clout as Trade Grew" Seattle Times, March 5, 2015.
John S. Ahlquist quoted on fee that non-union members pay in Sarah McHaney, "Is Right-to-Work the Kiss of Death for Labor Unions?" PBS Newshour, March 9, 2015.
John S. Ahlquist quoted on the impact of right-to-work laws, "Right-to-Work Legislation is Pure Politics" Daily Cardinal, March 2, 2015.
Guest to discuss the impact right-to-work laws have on unions on NBC The Big Story, John S. Ahlquist, February 23, 2015.
"AFL-CIO Takes a Big, but Necessary, Leap of Faith," John S. Ahlquist (with Margaret Levi), Detroit Free Press, September 17, 2013.
John S. Ahlquist's research on out-of-state donations to Wisconsin's gubernatorial recall election discussed in Sam Bollier. John S. Ahlquist, "Stage Set for U.S. Showdown over Recall Vote," Al-Jazeera, June 4, 2012.