chapter  8
9 Pages


This book has identified a number of common and enduring themes in the mainstream economics literature on work and labour. These include the depiction of work as a means to consumption, rather than an end in itself. Whether one consults the writings of the mercantilists, the classical economists, or neoclassical economists, one is struck by the consistency with which work has been defined as something which people wish to avoid. Work has been characterised as a pain or disutility. It has been implied that it is a natural part of human nature to seek leisure over work. An underlying notion is that the ideal form of human society is one where consumption needs can be met in the absence of work. A life of leisure with unlimited consumption is supposedly what humans crave most of all. As previous chapters have shown, opinion in mainstream economic

thought about exactly why workers are averse to work has evolved over time. In early mercantilist thought, it was argued that the labourer was naturally idle and worked mainly from hunger. Such an argument was used to justify the maintenance of poverty for the labouring population (see Chapter 2). Later economists including Jevons, too, argued that the ‘lower classes’ were natural idlers and thus were sceptical about the case for higher living standards for those who worked to produce wealth (see Chapter 5). Indeed, the view that workers are essentially lazy and must be forced to work has resurfaced in a different form in modern mainstream economics. Approaches such as transaction costs economics and efficiency wage theory see the problem of work avoidance by individual workers as the root cause of hierarchy and unemployment in society (see Chapter 7). Workers, then, are seen to suffer a loss of control over the work process and joblessness, due to their own refusal to work in the manner required by employers. Within such approaches,

there is little recognition that the system of work might be responsible for the hardships suffered by workers in their lives inside and outside work.1