The Elgar Companion to Social Economics, Second Edition
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The Elgar Companion to Social Economics, Second Edition

Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma

Social economics is a dynamic and growing field that emphasizes the key roles social values play in the economy and economic life. This second edition of the Elgar Companion to Social Economics revises all chapters from the first edition, and adds important new chapters to reflect the expansion and development of social economics. The expert contributions explain a wide range of recent developments across different subject areas and topics in the field, mapping out possible directions of future social economic research. Social economics treats the economy and economics as embedded in a web of social and ethical relationships. It considers economics and ethics as essentially connected, and adds values such as justice, fairness, dignity, well-being, freedom, and equality to the standard emphasis on efficiency. This book will be a leading resource and guide to social economics for many years to come.
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Chapter 40: Exploitation and surplus

Phillip Anthony O’Hara


Exploitation has a number of meanings in social economics, the most common being ‘unfairly utilizing a human being – or groups of human beings – for advantage’, due to the value of output produced by labour being greater than the wage. Scholars may call this process ‘exploitation’, based on their labour and/or institutional theory, even though these scholars realize that such ‘exploitation’ may be considered fair, according to the ethical and/or legal system dominant in the social formation under question. Such societies generate theories to justify the exploitation; usually within capitalism it is the business of orthodox economics to do this justifying: this is indeed one of orthodoxy’s most important tasks (see O’Hara, 1997, pp. 70–76). Specifically, this work links exploitation with social surplus, in particular total aggregate surplus product, surplus value, economic surplus or profit. The surpluses of some societies are larger than others. For instance, the surplus of hunter-gatherer societies may be only seasonal or cyclical, since such people prefer leisure and/or they fail to have the productive capacity to produce a sustainable surplus. In any case, there is not usually a large parasitic class to support from the surplus (Sanderson, 1991, pp. 250–51). A surplus becomes more necessary in class societies, such as slavery, feudalism and capitalism.

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