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The Living Wage

Lessons from the History of Economic Thought Donald R. Stabile, Professor of the College, St Mary’s College, Maryland, US
For the last decade a movement for providing workers with a living wage has been growing in the US. This book describes how great thinkers in the history of economic thought viewed the living wage and highlights how the ideas of the early economists such as Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill support the idea of a living wage and contrast with the ideas of more recent free-market economists who do not. The lessons we can learn from the contrasting ideas of both the early and recent economists will help us to think more clearly about the issues surrounding whether, how and why workers should be paid a living wage.
Extent: 176 pp
Hardback Price: $127.00 Web: $114.30
Publication Date: 2009
ISBN: 978 1 84844 197 2
Availability: In Stock
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  • Economics and Finance
  • History of Economic Thought
For the last decade a movement for providing workers with a living wage has been growing in the US. This book describes how great thinkers in the history of economic thought viewed the living wage and highlights how the ideas of the early economists such as Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill support the idea of a living wage and contrast with the ideas of more recent free-market economists who do not. The lessons we can learn from the contrasting ideas of both the early and recent economists will help us to think more clearly about the issues surrounding whether, how and why workers should be paid a living wage.

The book reviews the history of economic ideas related to the idea of the living wage. It presents a debate between two ideologies, the moral economy and the market economy, as captured by the need to sustain the workforce, enhance its capability and avoid the externality effects of low wages. It is unique in that it applies these concepts exclusively to labor. The book also breaks new ground by presenting Adam Smith as a moral economist who anticipated many of the arguments set forth by modern day advocates of the living wage. It shows how successive economic thinkers added to Smith’s arguments for a living (subsistence) wage or found fault with those arguments. Throughout the book Donald Stabile draws out the lessons that this history of the economic thought about adequate wages has for the modern living wage movement.

Economists interested in the history of economic thought and labor issues will find this book a compelling read, as will academics and community groups advocating for a living wage.
‘The Living Wage provides a thorough examination of the living wage concept and will be useful for any activist or academic wishing to explore economic theories of wages.’
– Stephanie Luce, Australian Economic History Review

‘I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about poverty and wants to know what economists have said about its connections with the labor market and to consider whether voluntary or government wage norms would be a wise, just, and effective way to reduce poverty. Economists should recommend this book to those who doubt that economists have values. Many professional economists could also use a good review of how their discipline has dealt with the ideas of just, fair, living, and minimal-wage rates. The book would make an excellent supplementary text for a history of economic thought class. Thanks to Stabile for providing a full treatment of such an important intellectual, social, and moral issue.’
– Robin Klay, Journal of Markets & Morality

‘. . . this is a fine addition to the history of economic thought and should be required reading for economists since it reminds us that economics was originally subsumed under the larger disciplinary umbrella of political economy and moral philosophy.’
– Oren M. Levin-Waldman, Industrial and Labor Relations Review

‘Stabile does us a valuable service by laying aside nebulous questions about justice and focusing on specific economic issues. In the process, he offers a compact, well-organized tour of the idea of a living wage in the history of economic thought. It is a book that deserves the attention of economists and scholars working on the history of ideas, as well as anyone contributing to debates over wage policy.’
– Art Carden, EH.Net
Contents: Preface 1. Introduction: The Living Wage 2. Sustainability: Subsistence, Necessities and Unions 3. Capability: Work and Wages, Virtue and Skill 4. Externality, Community and Wages 5. Lessons from the History of Economic Thought Bibliography Index