Lessons from the History of Economic Thought
Chapter 3: Capability: Work and Wages, Virtue and Skill
INTRODUCTION The capability approach takes seriously the idea that society should set a number of objectives for its members. It wants them to be eﬀective producers and eﬀective citizens. In the language of modern economics, this requires that workers develop their human capital and their social capital if they are to participate in life in a meaningful way. In using these terms, however, modern economists are dressing up old concepts – virtue and skill – in their particular jargon. The early economists, while their jargon was not so speciﬁc, were also concerned with capability. To some extent, as noted in Chapter 2, that concern coincided with their concern of sustainability. Workers with low levels of sustenance could not very well aspire to high levels of capability. In this chapter we will see that the early economists had higher standards for what levels worker’s capability could reach and they related them to the issues of work and wages. To them, the capability approach meant that in looking at work and wages society needed to consider whether they enabled workers to improve their abilities as workers and as members of society and to enhance those abilities in their children. As the market economy developed, however, economists began thinking that the enhancement of worker capability was more an issue for individual workers than for society. In the world of the advanced economies, it means that individuals must make informed choices in how to spend the income the market provides them. Still, if...
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