Lessons from the History of Economic Thought
Chapter 2: Sustainability: Subsistence, Necessities and Unions
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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