The work life of human actors plays a significantly different role within social economics than within mainstream economics. In the textbook model of the labor market, paid employment generates disutility compensated by monetary remuneration. The remuneration is used to then purchase market goods and services to satisfy human wants. Neoclassical labor market theory thus reflects the implicit purpose of economic life in the mainstream (neoclassical) definition of economics articulated by Lionel Robbins in 1935: ‘the science which studies human behavior as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses’ (quoted in Dugger, 1996, p. 31). This definition is one manifestation of what Jon Wisman (2003) has termed ‘the material progress vision’ in which economic growth is a primary goal of economic life. According to Wisman, ‘In some expressions of this vision, material abundance is viewed not only as the prerequisite, but also as the guarantor, of freedom, equality, and justice’ (ibid., p. 427). Social economists challenge the prioritization of material goods and services as the end of economic life. Work, rather than simply a means to material ends, is part of a complex process of ‘social provisioning’. Social provisioning has been advanced as an alternative to Robbins’s definition of the terrain of economics (Figart, 2007; see also Nelson, 1993). Marilyn Power notes that the term emphasizes ‘economic activities as interdependent social processes’ (2004, p. 6).
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