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Hay, carrots, bread and roses: subsistence and surplus wages in Sraffa's papers

This paper focuses on the concepts of subsistence and surplus wages as proposed by Sraffa. Wages have a double component: they are both a cost of production and a share of net income – an ambivalence that reflects deep tensions inherent in the nature of wage labour as a commodity that needs to be reproduced, but also can negotiate its own price. This ambivalence conceals a double perspective: for capitalists, wages are a cost, whereas, for workers, they are the entitlement to the means of subsistence. This means that within the definition of wages is hidden a conflict of interests: understood as a cost, workers’ consumption is merely functional to the production and realization of profit, but, from the workers’ point of view, wages are means of their well-being (Sen, 1985).