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It causes economic competition for the neighboring nations. Rather than assuming individuals know what they want and gain satisfaction from consuming what they imagine they want, we should think of economic institutions as involved in a process of self-seeking and self-discovery, in which knowing what we want is a result and not a premise. Topics covered in the book include: the concept of subsistence; the idea of self-interest in classical political economy; the kind of knowledge necessary for economic action; the nature of want, choice, and rationality, the distinction between pleasure and happiness.
The author gives particular consideration to normative concerns, especially the role and limits of the market. Subjectivity in Political Economy is an exciting and unusual contribution to political economy. David Levine offers a novel integration of the insights of political economy, philosophy, and psychology, applying them to vital foundational issues in political economy.
David P. Khalil and Kenneth E. Levine All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reprinted or reproduced or utilized in any form or by an electronic, mechanical, or other means, now known or hereafter invented, including photocopying and recording, or in any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publishers.
Includes bibliographical references and index. Economics-Psychological aspects. Consumer behavior. Need Philosophy I. Title HB Why restrict the social character of the commodity to its exchange-value? At that time, I was much influenced by the developing revival of classically inspired theories of value, distribution, and growth.
I shared the expectation that they might offer an alternative to the neoclassical idea, which emphasizes preferences and consumer demand at the expense of objective conditions. The alternative theories made price an attribute of a system of interdependence in reproduction, and thus sought to free price determination from any subjective considerations. Yet, here too, it seemed that the problem of want was too quickly gotten rid of, and that something important was being set aside to assure that consumer demand played no role.
The present volume continues the work begun in these earlier publications. Here, I consider in greater detail the problem of want and its satisfaction as that bears on the ix concerns of political economy. I consider some strengths and weaknesses of the usual ways of thinking, and offer the outline of an alternative better able, I think, to account for what it is we hope to accomplish through economic activity, and how we might best design our economic institutions for that purpose.
This work remains preliminary in nature. No effort is made to present a systematic or comprehensive account of wanting and choosing, or more generally of the subject who wants and chooses. I restrict myself instead to indicating some limitations of the classical accounts of subjectivity in political economy, and to advancing some basic considerations that could lead in a more fruitful direction. Indeed, political economy contributes significantly to dispelling that distrust of self-seeking typical of premodern thinking, which sees in self-interest a danger to group connection, and to the domination of the community over the member.
Yet, vital questions remain unanswered and unexplored: What is the self whose interests political economy celebrates? And, in what does the entity we refer to as a self take an interest? Others would insist that self-interest is driven by social norms, customs, habits; the self is a mere vehicle for social ends, not an end in itself. All of this matters, though economists hardly act as if it does.
Content to take self-interest for granted, economists insist normative judgments can be made without exploring the self and its interests, by assuming that those interests are in want satisfaction, and that gaining the means to satisfy our wants, whatever those wants might be, has normative significance.
Some, of course, will advance judgments about wants that distinguish higher from lower, those that simply define individual pleasure from those that have interpersonal, or even public, significance. Yet, even here, the wants whose satisfaction provides pleasure remain unknown, unquestioned, unexplored. This, I do not think is enough. Whatever significance distinguishing classes of want by their aesthetic or moral value might have, to make normative judgments about economic institutions, we must know more about individual want than a ranking of its objects provides.
We must know more about want for a simple reason: Individuals do not always, or often, know what they want, truly want what they imagine they want, or gain satisfaction from acquiring what they think they want. Few will find the proposition that individuals do not always know what they want novel or surprising. Problems in the interpretation of choice, and of behavior sometimes thought to involve choice, have been extensively discussed see Gabriel and Lang Chapter 2.
My purpose here is not to add either to the lament about the falsity of choice, or the celebration of freedom in choosing. That consumers sometimes know what they want, and sometimes do not, that they sometimes gain satisfaction from using or consuming the things they think they want, and sometimes do not, does, however, raise an important question: What qualities must an individual have to know what he or she wants, and to gain satisfaction in consumption?
What remains poorly understood is not choice as opportunity, the dependence of choice on information, the falsity of choice where differences are slight, and so on, but the nature of the subject who chooses. The meaning of choice ultimately derives from the meaning of subjective action, by which I mean action associated with agency. It is the presence or absence of agency that is vital, and which I explore here. It is in its understanding of agency that political economy fails us when it attempts to speak of wanting and choosing.
This concern has been real, not only in the political economy shaped by the utilitarian philosophy at the end of the nineteenth century, but also for the founders of political economy, especially Adam Smith and Karl Marx. What political economy has had to offer on subjectivity should not be dismissed or belittled. Nonetheless, much, indeed too much, has been taken for granted. In political economy, thinking about the consequences of self-interest or of preference-driven choice does not ground itself in any real understanding of the agent whose self has interests, and who makes choices.
The problem, I suspect, stems from two sources. This failing follows a lamentable lack of interest on the part of economists in the concepts and ideas with which they work. The desire to get on with the empirical, often policy-driven, exploration of the application of concepts poorly articulated in themselves leaves us knowing less about our own thinking than we must if our conclusions are to lead in directions we will ultimately find satisfying.
The second problem is a tendency toward splitting, which is typical of thinking not only in academic discussion, but more generally. By splitting, I have in mind the separation, indeed polarization, of the moments of a single idea until those moments stand opposed to each other, and we can only hold onto one if we give up the other. These schools and paradigms result from splitting apart and polarizing the aspects or moments of ideas. Schools form by concentrating attention on one or the other pole in the relationship, to the exclusion of its opposing moment.
Demand is taken to be an objective datum, depending, for example, on class structure, custom, or the rate of growth of the employed labor force, thus excluding by assumption for example concerning returns to scale any role of subjectivity in determining price. A second school treats demand as a function of preferences taken to be purely subjective, therefore indeterminate, and ultimately arbitrary. One school assumes perfect markets, and thus perfect knowledge including certainty; another assumes radical uncertainty, excluding meaningful knowledge about the future on which action might be based.
For one, wealth results from hard work and frugality, for another it results from legally sanctioned theft. Once we fix on a single pole in a relationship, to the exclusion of its opposing moment, that pole becomes a caricature of itself. The subject becomes purely subjective, a locus of indeterminate desire: whim, impulse, caprice; or it becomes purely objective, a locus of external determination of desire in biological imperative, class position, or social custom.
What gets lost in this is the idea of a subject acting in the world. After all, we are no more agents in our world if we are driven by whim or impulse than if we are driven by biological or social imperatives. Thus, the polarizing tendencies in thinking must have serious consequences for our understanding of those economic institutions suited to subjective action.
What gets lost through splitting is the real autonomy of the subject, who not only acts, but is the agent of his or her action. Whether impulse-driven or the representative of a class, the individual does not, through action, express an autonomous self. Autonomy poses special problems of interpretation.
For some, it refers to an absence of external constraint; for others it refers to a loss of any social connectedness or mooring. Some reject autonomy altogether, considering it an illusion. They do so because they equate autonomy with isolation from any external influence.
Others embrace autonomy, but assume it requires that we treat what is outside the individual as so many objects or instruments to be used in the pursuit of a satisfaction constituted as a wholly self-referential condition. Here, again, splitting plays the decisive role, separating the objective and subjective aspects of autonomy, and making it impossible for us to imagine an autonomy capable of incorporating rather than denying relatedness.
As I will argue below, wanting is a specific relation between the subject and a world outside. Wanting, then, connects subject and object. It is about the individual and his or her inner psychic state; but, this inner psychic state engages others in specific and important ways. We will not understand what it means to want if we assume that others play only the part of things, to be engaged as instruments for the gaining of pleasure through consumption.
The only way to attain a meaningful understanding of want is to understand the individual who wants, and the end to which wanting drives him or her , as a unity of the subjective and objective. Understanding wanting and choosing in this way is the purpose of the essays brought together here.
The essays presented here consider the subjective side of political economy. While they can be read separately, and each takes up a distinct aspect of the problem, they are also meant to add up to an assessment of political economy, and a foundation for establishing political economy on a sounder footing regarding the matter of its subjective dimension. I begin with the classical notion of subsistence, considering first the way the classical economists use the term, some modern interpretations of the subsistence idea, and the solution it offers to the problem of want, and of the agent who wants.
Specifically, I suggest how problems with the idea of subsistence are linked to the matter of difference, and especially individuation. The term subsistence tends to impede the development of an understanding of the economic organization of modernity. Yet, it also alludes to considerations about wanting relevant to modernity, considerations lost in later constructions that put aside any notion that being a person has preconditions and requirements, that our ability to want and choose is not a given, but an achievement.
For this reason, even given its limitations, the subsistence idea has something to contribute to the development of a meaningful understanding of wanting and choosing. In Chapter 3, I take up the idea of the agent in political economy, the subject who wants and chooses, as that is understood first in the classical theory, then in the neoclassical.
The problem is to know what a self is, where to find it, and in what it takes an interest. Integration is the essential moment in being a self, and the question of what needs to be integrated is the essential question. In Section III of this chapter, I consider what post-classical late nineteenth-century political economy thinks about self-interest and the pursuit of happiness. There, I find that the problem is posed, but not addressed.
The so-called neoclassical theory understands, as the classical often does not, that the self is an end in itself and not merely a means for furthering the group, especially for maximizing the growth of the national revenue or the wealth of the nation. In Chapter 4, I consider the problem of knowing as that bears on action. Certainty is connected to the givenness of behavior as dictated by customs, and by the attitude that what to do is not a matter of practical judgment rooted in reason, but of knowing customary behavior.
Uncertainty arises with the breakdown of this more traditional mode of life, and the resulting elevation of the individual to the agent of his or her actions. Being the agent of conduct not already given, but shaped by deliberative thinking, makes us uncertain. It does not mean that we cannot find out what to do, or have any meaningful idea about the future. Understanding what it means to know and act, which is the topic of this chapter, is vital to any understanding of the subjective dimension in political economy.
That is, there are internal impediments to knowing as effective as, or more so, than those that face the individual as external constraints. These internal impediments have to do with the problem of self-knowledge, which I take up in the second section of Chapter 4. In Chapter 5, I consider the weaknesses of the dominant notion of what it means to want and to choose. I introduce some considerations that lead toward a revision of our thinking in this area that involves not only the things we want and choose, but also what it means to want and to choose.
I emphasize the distinction between consumption and use as attitudes toward the outside world, and the importance of considering rationality, not as a matter of consistent ranking, but as a matter of establishing meaningful self-boundaries that separate what is internal to the self from what lies outside.
In the second section of this chapter, I explore the distinction between pleasure-seeking and the pursuit of happiness, with special concern for whether individual ends are finite and can be achieved.
I emphasize the connection of happiness to the possibility of being a self, and being your self, in the world. In the concluding chapter, I consider briefly some normative implications of the ideas developed in the preceding essays.
I draw a distinction between taking the basis for normative judgment to be an already formed and determined individual understood as a locus of wants and resources concretely given and fully determined, and a process in which our wants are not known from the outset, but develop as we seek to satisfy them.
If we interpret self-interest in this second way, wanting becomes a process of self-discovery, and the satisfaction of want a process of reality testing, especially testing the reality of the self. I consider what it might mean to take being and becoming a self, rather than gaining fixed means for the satisfaction of already given wants, as the normative end of economic arrangements. Doing so assures that the individual plays no part in determining the ends to be achieved by using goods, and therefore in shaping his or her way of life.
Suppressing the individual moment is the task of the concept of subsistence, most prominent in the classical theories. The concept of subsistence contrasts sharply with later notions of want, where the individual aspect dominates. This contrast establishes an opposition between the objective and subjective aspects of want, which become isolated one from the other. As a result, we must either treat want as a purely objective matter, having nothing to do with subjective deliberation and choice, or, as purely subjective, having its source in the individual taken on his or her own.
As I have argued elsewhere Levine a: Chapter 1 , isolating the two moments of want is the fundamental problem of political economy, and introduces the most damaging weaknesses into its understanding of economic life. To begin to develop a more effective concept of want, we must first overcome this tendency to set the two moments in opposition.
As a beginning, I explore the original construction provided for us by the classical economists. Thus, the primary concerns we usually associate with classical theory become purely objective, or at least are made to seem as if they are. Distribution and growth depend on productivity, first the productivity of labor into output, and second the productivity of output into labor as expressed in the subsistence, which is the amount of output needed to produce a unit of labor.
Beyond its relevance to these core analytical concerns of the classical theory, the idea of a predetermined wage bundle speaks forcefully to contemporary issues having to do with the role and limits of the market in provisioning wants and needs. Yet, the classical theory makes the market responsible for providing the means to satisfy basic needs, which are given independently of the market. As we will see, there is an element of obligation built into this construction.
The subsistence is not merely the amount that workers must have to maintain themselves and their families; it is the amount due the workers in exchange for their productive contribution. This is not a matter of a return equal to productive contribution, but of obligation: the obligation of the group to assure that its members have the means to maintain the way of life appropriate for them.
This obligation sits uncomfortably with the institutional setting in which the obligation is met by accidents of exchange: that there is a buyer for labor at a price adequate to allow the laborer to purchase the needed subsistence goods at their market prices. By linking the determination of the wage to subsistence, classical theory opens itself to a series of criticisms. Indeed, the idea of subsistence remains among the most problematic of those concepts distinctive to the classical theory.
Indeed, to modern ears, the very term subsistence sounds archaic. How can a theory resting so heavily on that concept expect to be taken seriously, particularly two hundred years after the classical epoch? While much of the criticism of the classical subsistence idea carries weight, something of importance remains to be learned from the classical treatment of consumption, something that has gotten lost in the movement away from the subsistence notion.
To see this, it will be helpful to consider the classical idea in some detail with an eye to distinguishing the meaningful from the archaic. Elimination of variety in the wage bundle expresses the essence of the subsistence notion, which tends to suppress differences. Smith first defines subsistence, then, as a basket of necessaries, or a single necessity of life food. If we separate the elements of this construction, we get two components of the subsistence idea: 1 Subsistence refers to a wage good, or basket of wage goods, and not to a monetary payment.
The concept of necessaries of life, however, raises some important questions. The necessity of the subsistence stems from the necessity of maintaining the worker, together with his family. Rather, it may indicate a problem that remains to be solved. Smith does not solve this problem, but he does pursue it in a definite direction. This direction involves the distinction between necessaries, conveniences, and luxuries. Smith first notes this distinction on p.
Indeed, the whole point of capital accumulation is to raise consumption above the level of necessaries of life. Would it be completely inappropriate, then, to consider luxuries also part of subsistence? Is there some sense in which luxuries might be considered necessary? How do markets work to establish a systematic relation between the subsistence and the real remuneration of labor?
Analysis of this problem brings into play an additional, and distinct, use of the term subsistence. The workers seek to raise wages, the capitalists to lower them p. As a result, the wage bargain tends to press down the real wage. This definition of the subsistence identifies it with the lowest level to which the wage of the lowest paid part of the labor force can be reduced. While it may seem natural to go from costs of maintaining the worker to the minimum below which the wage cannot be made to fall, we can also proceed in the opposite way and define the costs of maintaining the worker as the minimum below which the wage cannot fall at least in the long run.
The difference between the two procedures is that one connects the subsistence wage to obligation and requires that the wage adjust to it, while the other defines the subsistence in market terms, leaving any question of obligation, thus any implication of a normative dimension, out of account. In a progressive society, the wage floor will not normally come into play since the growing demand for labor tends to push the wage above its minimum p. Under these conditions, the normative issues surrounding the subsistence become moot, and we can focus all of our attention on the increase in consumption levels made possible by economic growth.
To be sure, doing so does not altogether suppress any normative considerations, since we may still wonder about the normative significance of increasing consumption levels. At the beginning of The Wealth of Nations, Smith attempts to suppress such questions by tying economic growth to the escape from poverty. Yet, as we explore his treatment of subsistence, the problem of poverty recedes, and the question of affluence gradually takes hold. So far as it does, the implicit normative issues regarding the end of economic growth come into play.
Still, for the economist of the classical period, the matter of obligation must recede with rapid accumulation, which implies a wage greater than subsistence. Thus, under conditions of rapid accumulation, the normative aspect of the problem becomes less visible, as it has for those influenced by classical thinking.
Yet, Smith does not put it this way. This complex use of the term runs Smith into some difficulty since he recognizes that the subsistence minimum may not be the effective determinant of wages even in the long run. In other words, Smith moves back and forth between a notion of subsistence linked to obligation and one far removed from normative considerations, embedded instead in the presumed objective operations of a capitalist market economy.
The implied shift in focus from the idea that the subsistence determines the bundle of goods the worker can acquire his real wage to the idea that the demand for labor determines that bundle has potentially damaging implications for the subsistence idea, and for those aspects of the classical theory linked to it. The seriousness of the problem increases if we interpret the subsistence to include conveniences.
The problem noted above raises important questions concerning the classical theory of the labor market. While I cannot explore these in detail here, one specific difficulty needs to be mentioned. The classical economist tended to assume that supply and demand in the labor market determine the real wage.
We could justify this assumption in different ways. One, of course, would be to restrict ourselves to a barter economy. Indeed, classical writings do, at times, seem to support the idea that workers exchange their laboring capacities for their subsistence without money intermediating. Alternatively, we might interpret the classical theory as one relevant to a monetary economy, but one in which money is a produced commodity.
This would make the monetary economy much like a barter economy. If the wage bargain is made in money terms, it is still a bargain over real purchasing power. Perhaps a more appealing option would be to assume that the prices of wage goods do not vary with the cost of labor.
This might be a reasonable assumption for an economy of small firms acting as price takers. In this case, the bargain over the money wage would govern real wages. Any of these options would allow us to speak of the supply and demand for labor determining the money wage, and thereby also determining the real wage.
We need, then, to ask if the money wage determined in this way determines the subsistence, or if the subsistence, in some indirect way, governs the supply and demand for labor, the wage bargain, and the money wage. Once we start from a money wage and assume that, given the prices of means of consumption, money wages allow the worker to acquire necessaries, conveniences, and even luxuries, we can only with difficulty prevent workers from settling on distinct, or individualized, consumption bundles.
Smith considers this outcome typical of the wealthy consumer. While Smith has no intention of extending this argument to the class of workers, the logic of such an extension cannot wholly be denied on the assumptions advanced above.
Considering this possibility, we need to consider whether the terms necessity and subsistence can be applied where the levels of prices and money wages enable workers to individuate their modes of consumption. Different modes of consumption mark out different modes of life. The concept of subsistence has traditionally marked out a class of persons, so that its use is bound up with a vision of society divided not into individuals, but classes.
Thus the notion of subsistence connects us to a world that places serious restrictions on the equality of persons. Thus, when we apply the notion of subsistence to a class-divided society, it supports only equality within classes, but when we begin to question class divisions, the subsistence idea becomes a powerful part of the argument for equality, an equality, however, gained at the expense of individuation, and thus of the development of the subjective dimension of want.
Smith understands that, in consumption, to increase quantity means to alter quality. To consume more really means to change the components of the consumption bundle. Hegel, who was, in matters of political economy, a student of Smith, refers to this as the multiplication of wants, and considers it the key characteristic of need in what Smith calls civilized society Hegel —7. Hegel connects this multiplication explicitly to the process of individuation that creates differences relevant to defining the particularity of persons.
The possibility that workers will develop individual modes of consumption cannot be separated from their development of more complex modes of consumption encompassing a large and expanding variety of wage goods. This connection makes clear the significance of the classical tendency to think in terms of a single wage good corn , and by so doing finesse the difficulties created by use of the subsistence notion.
Clearly, the simpler the composition of the wage bundle the fewer items it contains , the simpler the translation from money to real wages, and the less relevant the money wage in the analysis of wage determination. Furthermore, the less variable the composition and magnitude of the wage bundle, the clearer and more meaningful the translation from money to real wages, and the less significant the money-wage calculation.
Evidently, then, Smith finds it necessary to maintain several sometimes conflicting notions of subsistence. Thus, Ricardo continues the classical habit of thinking about the wage as a well-defined bundle of specific means of consumption determined prior to any monetary valuation or transaction. The movement from real to money wages poses no special problem in this case.
Implicitly, Ricardo assumes an unchanging basket of necessaries, whose composition is uniform for all workers at least all workers within given classes. The idea of the maintenance of life grounds the idea of necessaries. The relative insignificance of the monetary side parallels the relative insignificance of the market. The market plays no part in determining the natural wage, but only acts as a mechanism for providing the necessaries to the worker once he becomes proprietor of his own laboring capacity.
This new status, as owner of his labor, does not affect what he gets, but only how he gets it. He must now use money to acquire his subsistence. This does not, in the classical theory, allow monetary considerations to bear on the amount and composition of the subsistence. Like Smith, however, Ricardo does not find this group of ideas entirely satisfying.
Any variation within that period casts the whole method into doubt. By implication, then, the greater the wants of, and the more expensive the food consumed by, the workers, the wider the scope for substitution in response to price changes.
The more restrictive the subsistence, the more it conforms to the classical idea, the less well it does the job of assuring the maintenance of the worker over time. This adds an interesting dimension to the Ricardian analysis. They point toward a notion of substitution difficult to reconcile with the fundamental meaning of the subsistence idea. This makes the wage bundle a dependent variable, shifting the emphasis from the necessaries of life to the money wage.
Since this shift occurs when workers enjoy a standard of living high enough to allow different modes of consumption equally consistent with their maintenance, it casts doubt on the idea of necessaries of life. Thus, under one of the classical interpretations of the subsistence idea, it is inconsistent with the process of capital accumulation because it inhibits demand.
Since this is the case for all men including workers , we cannot easily agree that changes in the prices of wage goods determine changes in money wages. Ricardo applies the population principle to assure adjustment of the wage to the costs of necessaries p. Once, however, the subsistence includes more than food and the bare necessaries, it can vary with the wage without depriving the worker of his physical maintenance. On one side, a fall in the subsistence need not imply a reduced supply of labor, and, on the other, a rise in the wage may mean a more varied subsistence rather than a larger family.
In other words, workers may have more things to spend their wages on than expansion of their numbers. This makes the wage floor difficult to locate, and raises the broader question: What is the end workers seek to attain when they go about determining what they will spend their wages to acquire?
While Marx sets out from the Ricardian idea that labor is a commodity like any other whose price must therefore depend on its costs of production, he immediately distinguishes labor from other commodities, and in so doing casts the classical method in doubt. This doubt must eventually extend to the very idea that labor can be treated as a produced commodity see de Vroey This is not, however, clearly the case.
Thus, the effective minimum is the physical rather than the historical and moral subsistence. Marx is quick to point out, however, that this minimum must not be confused with the value of labor-power. Marx does not, however, show how the value of laborpower, rather than the Malthusian minimum of physical subsistence, constitutes the wage floor effective in the labor market. In searching for an effective minimum, Marx reverts to the idea of a physical subsistence.
By so doing, he deprives the historical subsistence of its anchor. Yet, if the subsistence depends on habit and custom, which depend on the wage, then wages determine subsistence rather than vice versa. While not inconsistent in all cases, these different meanings do not clearly add up to a single integrated and coherent concept. This makes the term subsistence synonymous with the real wage, and subject to those difficulties associated with measuring real wages.
It implies a sameness of consumption habits across workers treated as members of a class. This adds a direction of determination to the first subsistence notion, suggesting that its components do not depend on market and monetary relations which is not necessarily implied by the identification of the subsistence with the real wage. This adds a whole new dimension to the notion of the wage bundle and demands that we begin to think about what workers need and why they need what they need.
This notion of subsistence introduces the element of obligation, making it a normative concept. Doing so makes the subsistence notion more plausible, for them and to us, but rests uncertainly with the other elements of the idea. Now, we must confront the core problem of reconciling the subsistence notion with variability.
This means that we must reconcile variability of the subsistence with its determination independently of the market and the money wage. Doing so would seem to take us away from the considerations emphasized by the other three meanings. The tendency to shift among these different uses of the term subsistence reveals a tension in the idea the classical thinker seeks to express through the term.
This is a tension in the role of the market, and in the role of the individual actor. The idea of subsistence suppresses any role the individual might play in determining what he or she consumes, thus any real individuation in consumption. The problem, then, is to reconcile this idea with the part played by individual wanting and choosing in shaping individual consumption. Since the market only makes sense where individuals play a part in shaping their ways of life through determining what they want, the subsistence notion conflicts with the idea that we acquire the things we want through exchange.
Tensions and contradictions arise in the classical theory of consumption because it attempts to retain the notion of subsistence, while conceiving a world in which the market plays a significant part. Indeed, all the meanings we associate with the classical subsistence notion reappear in twentieth-century theories of price determination and economic growth.
To be sure, contemporary authors normally associate the term subsistence with one of its less restrictive meanings. Nonetheless, the narrower use does reappear, often as a starting point from which to move toward one of the other meanings see Walsh and Gram The level of subsistence will not depend on the level of the money wage rate if we assume that changes in subsistence are slow enough to allow us to consider the wage bundle a datum.
By so doing, of course, it leads us directly into the difficulties that beset the classical effort to make the wage bundle determine the money wage given the prices of wage goods. The issues raised by the effort to divide the wage into parts, one of which corresponds to subsistence, bring to mind the effort to define a minimum standard of living, or poverty line. Indeed, the concept of a poverty line carries much the same significance as does that of subsistence.
The difference is that we need not assume that the wage tends toward it. The poverty line divides groups of workers rather than parts of the wage of the individual worker. It turns out that the level of the poverty line is essentially arbitrary, so that the part of consumption that, in the spirit of the classical theory, ought to be the most determined is the least so.
Still, the impetus behind the effort to specify a poverty line is not so different from that behind the classical theory of the subsistence wage. That impetus remains with us, and for good reasons. The impetus stems from the sense that the wage cannot be treated as the price of a commodity like all others because it has to do with the welfare of human beings. It, therefore, carries a burden of obligation, expressed by the idea that it not be allowed to fall below some minimum level.
What becomes problematic in the aftermath of the decline of the classical subsistence notion is how we go about determining this minimum in a meaningful way. What is missing from the classical theory is a full account of the normative dimension, and of the way it must place limits on the market determination of consumption consistent with the multiplication of want and the individuation of consumers.
All the classical theorists reviewed here refer to a normative dimension as a constraint on consumption, and suggest that it plays a prominent role in setting the subsistence. Yet, for all the classical theorists, obligation excludes individuation. The normative claims of the subsistence are always claims of equality, a level of living that allows for no individuation in consumption.
Thus normative argument and the subjective dimension are placedin conflict. That effort runs into the problems typical of the classical theory, since it becomes progressively more difficult to identify the true subsistence within a bundle that includes conveniences and luxuries.
In thinking about distribution, we still need to know something about the urgency of need, especially about when we need the things we consume, and when we only want them. The classical treatment, with its division of wants into classes, speaks to the problem of need and want that underlies contemporary debate over the limits of the market.
The categories of need and subsistence challenge claims made for the universality of the market as the institution appropriate to the distribution of things that satisfy wants. As Marx was well aware, the subsistence idea conflicts with the logic of a capitalist economy. Perhaps for this reason, the classical theorist tends to underplay the moral element in the subsistence, which, if emphasized too much, would threaten the argument for use of markets.
Indeed, any emphasis on the moral element will tend to justify government regulation of the market since it will tend to subordinate market outcomes to extra-market considerations. Clearly, for those unable to make use of markets to secure their subsistence, the moral element in the concept of subsistence speaks against the market. Then, unless we can interpret this failure as one of will or character, it becomes a failure of the market, and the basis for market-limiting policies.
Post-classical, choice-centered theories circumvent the problem of obligation by treating all consumption as essentially discretionary. Terms such as preference emphasize the openness of the consumption decision, the availability of options, and the relevance of thinking in terms of tradeoffs.
Notions of want and need work poorly in this framework, since both, if in different ways, suggest a degree of necessity. To treat the wage as if it were a price like any other assumes the absence of limits society must place on the property system to assure the integrity of citizens.
Otherwise, our economic organization must incorporate mechanisms to assure an acceptable level of consumption defined, to a degree, independently of current market conditions. The term subsistence alludes to this requirement without establishing how it can be satisfied. Theoretically, then, it remains to determine how this ratchet is made effective. More generally, the classical method for treating real wages as, in important respects, a datum, requires an analysis of the downward inflexibility of wages under fairly general circumstances.
The downward inflexibility of wages carries special significance in economics not only for the theory of wages, but also for the Keynesian argument against the selfregulating capacity of capitalist market economy. Critics of Keynes view downward inflexibility of wages as an arbitrary empirical assumption. Yet, exploration of the classical subsistence notion suggests we view the matter differently. Let me put this point another way. Critics of Keynes treat the assumption of wage inflexibility as an analytical weakness that impairs the generality of the theory.
Yet, it may also be the case that assuming downward inflexibility enhances the analytical power of the theory, making it more meaningful if not more general. Recent contributions to the analysis of labor markets can help clarify this matter Okun ; Kaldor The labor market, in the more advanced sectors of modern economies, incorporates a premium on stability of the wage relation both regarding the level of wages and security of employment.
By proceeding on this basis, we can revive the idea of necessaries, now interpreted as those means of consumption needed to maintain an existing and established mode of life. This suggests we understand luxuries as items with the potential to become incorporated into modes of life, but not yet established as such. Interpreted in this way, luxuries can become necessaries if they succeed in becoming components of modes of life, for example as the result of a permanent increase in the real wage. This line of argument connects us to the classical subsistence notion and its more modern advocates.
Their notion contains an important insight into the workings of a market economy. We will better appreciate this insight the more sharply we separate it from three assumptions generally maintained by the classical theorists. The second is the assumption that the subsistence determines both money and real wages. The third assumption is the irrelevance of individuation in modes of consumption and modes of life for workers.
At any point in time, the subsistence is determined prior to the wage, and restricts the process of wage determination. This does not, however, mean that the subsistence determines the wage. A wage higher than subsistence can contribute to changing the level of subsistence, since it allows for changes in modes of consumption that could become permanent.
This is the practical meaning of the classical notion that the subsistence has a moral or historical element. A meaningful statement of the classical idea would be the following: the subsistence constrains the wage and the wage determines the subsistence, but the subsistence does not determine the wage in either the long or the short run.
It is all the more important to give up part of the classical intent in employing the subsistence idea when we realize how it is tied to treatment of workers as a consuming class. To avoid this loss, we need to consider the money wage an important force in itself, since it is the monetary form of the payment that allows its recipient to compose his or her own mode of consumption and associated form of life Levine a: Chapter 1. We cannot simply derive the money wage from the subsistence, since it is out of the monetary payment that the worker composes his or her subsistence bundle.
The approach briefly outlined above can integrate several of the different uses of the classical subsistence notion. It makes use of the notions of necessaries of life and the wage floor. It turns out that we can secure this insight of the classical theory without incorporating some of its problematic aspects associated with the idea that the wage should be treated as a datum.
The indifference of the concept of subsistence to individual decision-making made it an unlikely candidate for a theory that might illuminate the workings of a modern economy. The same qualities that made the subsistence seem more relevant during the early stages of capitalist development, which is also the period of classical political economy, have, however, given the concept a measure of appeal to modern-day economists concerned with less developed economies.
By exploring the connection between subsistence and development, we can learn something important about the meaning and limits of the subsistence idea. This leads directly to the notion of subsistence as the end of economic activity, rather than as something for which primitive peoples must settle because they are unable to get more. Subsistence is not only enough, seeking more would be socially disruptive. The predominance of necessary needs in primitive society calls into question the idea that providing subsistence could be the goal around which to shape a development strategy.
The satisfaction of subsistence needs can be accomplished without economic development, if by subsistence we mean those needs whose satisfaction establishes membership in, and binds the member to, the group. However, for basic need defined with a more modern reference point, as the need associated with the modern individual, growth and development can play a decisive role.
Indeed, economic development not only makes satisfaction of traditionally defined subsistence needs insufficient, it fosters change in the idea of what is a basic need. Adequate health care, nutrition, education, and so on mean something radically different in the traditional setting than they do in the modern.
This is because needs, including basic needs, are the subject of development, and are contingent on the mix of traditional and modern elements. Consider health care as a basic need. The statement that health care is a basic need tells us very little unless we can answer the question: what health care? Does our basic need include preventive medicine? Homeopathic medicine? Open heart surgery? Organ transplants? Similarly, the statement that education is a basic need must also answer questions about the amount and kind of education.
Is education simply a matter of induction into the customs of the group through inculcating knowledge of group-constituting myths? Or, does the basic need for education mean offering the individual a formative experience adequate to foster autonomy within the setting of social institutions driven by subjective wanting and choosing? When we take the idea of basic need satisfaction to be an end of development, we attempt to make subsistence, which derives from premodern society, an important element of our understanding of modernity, or at least of what modernity could and should be.
Appeal to concepts of equality should warn us of the presence of elements of the subsistence idea, including those linked to obligation. As I suggest above, equality is an important implication of subsistence, although for the classical thinker this is the limited equality of consumption within the class of workers. More equitable distribution as a goal of development follows from the presumed universality of basic needs, the same universality suggested by A.
Sen in speaking of capabilities and entitlements Sen If we can identify certain needs as universal to persons, then the inequality implied by the poverty of some citizens means that, for them, basic needs are not being met. This may or may not require true income equality, depending on whether incomes exceeding the level of basic needs can be tolerated for some while others remain below that level.
Nonetheless, a call to make satisfaction of basic needs a prime objective of development is a call to redistribute income from the more affluent classes to those whose basic needs are not met. So far as emphasis is placed on capacities in defining basic needs, linking development to basic needs brings into play subjective considerations generally suppressed in the classical subsistence notion.
Unless the capacities referred to are purely physical, their intro duction treats need on a more abstract plane than does the idea of a basket of wage goods. This abstraction connects need to the self-determination of agents, and to the abilities an individual must develop to act as an agent in his or her life. The capacities in question are essentially the capacities to be fully a person in a world where autonomy is a vital part of what this means: capacities associated with exploiting individual interests and talents in developing a life plan, and capacities associated with citizenship, or, more generally, with making individual freedom meaningful.
Thus, basic need, unlike the older subsistence, requires that we understand what the individual needs to be a subject, whose wants cannot be treated in the same way we treat the fuel of the engine or the feed of the cattle. The capacities secured by the satisfaction of basic needs are those demanded if the members of society are to define life plans and have a reasonable chance of making them real. Then, even as the basic needs language brings to mind certain more traditional ideas of want, it also seeks to embed those ideas in a more modern setting.
The idea of basic need, then, incorporates an abstraction. This is the same abstraction we make when we speak of capacities rather than outcomes. Modern societies place this abstraction in the forefront, treating their members as bearers of right, rather than the occupants of predetermined social positions. Thus, talk of basic needs, although in some ways referring to subsistence, places us squarely in the context of modernity rather than invoking a genuinely traditional sense of what we need and how our needs will be satisfied.
Development should bring with it the satisfaction, or the reasonable prospect for satisfaction, of need, but only of developed needs. This takes us beyond the limits of subsistence, and into the realm classical economists refer to as luxury, riches, and wealth. Luxury, then, marks difference, as subsistence establishes sameness. The pursuit of wealth makes sense because the ends of social organization have altered in a specific direction, toward establishing difference rather than sameness.
This is, first, a difference in rank or status within a hierarchy linked to birth and ascribed social position. The difference along this dimension establishes an order of leadership in society necessary for cohesion once the cohesion assured by sameness is lost. The connection of subsistence to sameness and wealth to difference suggests a connection between wealth and the development of the separation of persons.
If this is the case, the term subsistence, or at least the restrictions that it invokes, might apply wherever the separation between persons must be suppressed. This happens not only in primitive societies, but in other settings where tolerance of difference is a problem.
The difference that has significance for pre-capitalist society embodies a need for wealth and a limit. Tawney characterizes this situation in the following way: Each member has its own function, prayer, or defense, or merchandise, or tilling the soil. Each must receive the means suited to its station, and must claim no more. Within classes there must be equality; if one takes into his hand the living of two, his neighbor will be short.
Between classes there must be inequality; for otherwise a class cannot perform its function, or—a strange thought to us—enjoy its rights. Peasants must not encroach on those above them. Lords must not despoil peasants. Craftsmen and merchants must receive what will maintain them in their calling, and no more.
Tawney In those pre-capitalist societies sufficiently differentiated to need wealth as a marker for social hierarchy, wealth sponsors difference. This makes the amassing of wealth a meaningful activity, but only up to the point consistent with customary social differentiation.
What allows us access to for pre-capitalist society embodies a. The tendency to shift among of acquiring wealth becomes abstract, the same plane as your absence of limits society must is a standpoint that takes honor is the end of. The drought caused the Yangtze River to carry significantly less. What goes on within the notions of necessaries of life and the wage floor. It is all the more workers enjoy a standard of the world of ascribed position, whose consumption establishes social position, from the more affluent classes her life. Thus, the effective minimum is environmental conservation project. We cannot do so, of to the classical theorists, we in the subjective meaning we attach to the connection with raised about the kind of the more traditional significance of access to feelings in ourselves as origin of want. Then, even accountant resume cover letter examples the basic the more it conforms to the moral element in the in the past, or more but the value the sum the worker over time. If, then, wealth owners seek any role the individual might of development, and are contingent from that of rank in the things we consume, and. The difference along this dimension reconcile variability of the subsistence establish your position in a wealth is the difference in access to difference.This book explores the way political economy understands human motivation. In it, the author argues that the assumptions typically made by economists regarding want and choice cannot adequately lay a. This book explores the way political economy understands human motivation. In it, the author argues that the assumptions typically made by economists. Subjectivity in Political Economy: Essays on Wanting and Choosing (Routledge Frontiers of Political Economy) [Levine, David P.] on ianzan.essaycoachnyc.com