The Living Wage

The Living Wage

Lessons from the History of Economic Thought

Donald R. Stabile

For the last decade a movement for providing workers with a living wage has been growing in the US. This book describes how great thinkers in the history of economic thought viewed the living wage and highlights how the ideas of the early economists such as Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill support the idea of a living wage and contrast with the ideas of more recent free-market economists who do not. The lessons we can learn from the contrasting ideas of both the early and recent economists will help us to think more clearly about the issues surrounding whether, how and why workers should be paid a living wage.

Chapter 2: Sustainability: Subsistence, Necessities and Unions

Donald R. Stabile

Subjects: economics and finance, history of economic thought


INTRODUCTION The living wage raises a number of issues that would be of interest to any person who studies economics. Perhaps the largest of those issues is how to define it. The starting point in that definition is to define it not as a fixed monetary amount but in terms of what goods and services that monetary amount will allow the wage earner to purchase. This starting point, however, leads to a more vexing issue of what the wage earner needs to purchase in order to survive, that is, to sustain himself. Moreover, the idea of wages must also be addressed, as wages and labour markets are a relatively new phenomenon in human history. Along with this idea of the labour market comes the general idea of a market economy where incomes and expenditures are embedded in an exchange process. One must work for wages to earn an income to buy the goods and services needed to sustain life. This is such a basic concept, that a person must work in order to survive, that one must wonder why it has not been a burning question for every person who ever wrote a book on economics. From the beginning of their existence humans have had to work to survive. What is more recent is the mediation of wages into the work/survival equation. We now take that mediation for granted but it was not always so. Consequently we will start our investigation of sustainability with philosophers in ancient...

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