What it Means to Take Japan Seriously
‘The basic principle of the nineteenth-century British private enterprise economy was to buy in the cheapest market and to sell in the dearest. For the employer to buy labour in the cheapest market implied buying it at the lowest rate per unit of output; i.e. to buy the cheapest labour at the highest productivity. Conversely, for the worker to sell his labour in the dearest market meant logically to sell it at the highest minimum price for the minimum unit of output.’1 To be sure, as Hobsbawm goes on to point out, this principle underlying all contemporary theorizing about the industrial situation was not completely assimilated by workers and employers ‘as the rule of the game’ until towards the end of the century, in the final stages of the Great Depression. Earlier it had been modified in practice by custom and convention - by notions of ‘a fair day’s work for a fair day’s wage’, of the need to provide a subsistence minimum, of a ‘proper’ skilled/unskilled differential, of paternalistic obligation, and of the duty of faithful service. But already by the middle of the century the ‘new model’ of unionism had developed all kinds of devices which assumed the dominance of market principles and were designed to improve the bargaining power of workers acting collectively in the market restrictions on entry into the trade, unemployment benefits, emigration benefits, allowances which rationalized older tramping systems and helped workers to move from labour-surplus areas to labour-scarce areas, and so on. And...
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