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The price of labor, renumeration paid to employees for their work or services

A wage is monetary compensation paid by an employer to an employee in exchange for work done. Payment may be calculated as a fixed amount for each task completed (a task wage or piece rate), at an hourly or daily rate (wage labor) or based on an easily measured quantity of work done.

Notable Topics

  • Minimum Wage Laws - Legislation that places a lower limit on the prices paid for labor


The Bridge of Asses, by Lew Rockwell, Mises Daily, 2 Oct 2003
Argues that minimum wage legislation is "the pons asinorum of the relationship between economics and politics", explaining that labor prices (wages) are no different from other prices in the marketplace
The wage is nothing but a compromise ... in light of existing realities ... There is the quality of the services to consider. Will this person make a contribution to the overall profitability of the firm, if not now then after a period of time? How much of a contribution will the person make compared with how much employing the person will cost in terms of others' time and company resources? ... The employer must make an offer good enough to draw the potential employee away from whatever other things he or she might otherwise be doing, whether it is working for someone else or just lazying ...
The Economic Role of Saving and Capital Goods, by Ludwig von Mises, The Freeman, Aug 1963
Explains there is a third factor of production aside from nature's resouces and human labor, and also that entrepreneurial judgement is necessary to attain the desired end of production
There is no other method to make wage rates rise than by investing more capital per worker. More investment of capital means: to give to the laborer more efficient tools. With the aid of better tools and machines, the quantity of the products increases and their quality improves. As the employer consequently will be in a position to obtain from the consumers more for what the employee has produced in one hour of work, he is able—and, by the competition of other employers, forced—to pay a higher price for the man's work.
An Essay on the Influence of a low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock, by David Ricardo, 1815
Full title: An Essay on The Influence of a low Price of Corn on the Profits of Stock; shewing the Inexpediency of of Restrictions on Importation: with Remarks on Mr. Malthus' Two Last Publications: "An Inquiry into th e Nature and Progress of Rent;" and "The Grounds of an Opinion on the Policy of restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn."
Ricardo criticizes Malthus, who had previously written "Observations on the Corn Laws" generally supportive of free trade, for his The Grounds of an Opinion on the Policy of Restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn
The fall of the real wages of labour ... is more or less permanent, according as the price from which wages fall, is more or less near that remuneration for labour, which is necessary to the actual subsistence of the labourer. The rise or fall of wages is common to all states of society, whether it be the stationary, the advancing, or the retrograde state. In the stationary state, it is regulated wholly by the increase or falling off of the population. In the advancing state, it depends on whether the capital or the population advance, at the more rapid course.
Related Topic: Free trade
Eugen von Böhm-Bawerk: A Sesquicentennial Appreciation, by Richard Ebeling, The Freeman, Feb 2001
Broad biographical essay, including Böhm-Bawerk relationships with Menger, Mises and Schumpeter, and his two major works
One of Böhm-Bawerk's most important applications of his theory was the refutation of the Marxian exploitation theory that employers make profits by depriving workers of the full value of what their labor produces. ... all production takes time. If that period is of any significant length, the workers must be able to sustain themselves until the product is ready for sale. If they are unwilling or unable to sustain themselves, someone else must advance the money (wages) to enable them to consume in the meantime. ... the capitalist ... saves ... and those savings are the source of the workers' wages during the production process.
Free Trade, by Alan S. Blinder, The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, 2008
Presents the case for free trade by pointing out various protectionist arguments which are mistaken or fall short of their presumed benefits
If there were only one industry and occupation in which people could work, then free trade would indeed force American wages close to Japanese levels if Japanese workers were as good as Americans ... But modern economies are composed of many industries and occupations. If America concentrates its employment where it does best, there is no reason why American wages cannot remain far above Japanese wages for a long time—even though the two nations trade freely. A country's wage level depends fundamentally on the productivity of its labor force, not on its trade policy.
How to Destroy Mongolian Mining, by Morgan J. Poliquin, Mises Daily, 20 Jun 2006
Discusses the societal and economics implications of a 68% "windfall profits" tax imposed on copper and gold mining in Mongolian territory
The investors make the wages for the laborers of the potential mine possible by putting their savings into the development of the mine at the start, long before any profits will be returned. Mongolian workers don't have the money to find and develop a mine and, like workers worldwide, accept wages in return for labor right away before, and regardless if, any sales or profits are realized by the capitalist investors. Ivanhoe estimated that over its life the project would provide 117,000 new jobs (full and part-time workers), an 11.5% increase in Mongolian per capita income ...
Related Topics: Mining, Mongolia, Peru, Taxation
How to Help Fast-Food Workers, by Sheldon Richman, 1 Aug 2013
Discusses contemporaneous strikes by fast food workers seeking a doubling of the minimum wage, the economic realities behind wages and alternatives that would truly help the workers
What's wrong with simply doubling the minimum wage? The answer is that wages are not arbitrarily set. Even in a corporatist economy, they result from supply and demand ... Employers don't hire people as a favor ... If hiring someone is to be worthwhile, that person will have to produce more than she is paid. If she can't, she won't have a job ... The point is that wages aren't set by picking numbers out of the air. Set them too high relative to value created, and the business disappears. Set them too low, and workers will look for alternatives.
Inflation Is the Last Thing We Need, by Sheldon Richman, 31 Oct 2013
Responds to promoters of an inflationary environment by explaining price inflation as a consequence of monetary inflation and examines the effects claimed by inflation advocates
Why would anyone want inflation? ... When the value of the dollar falls, our incomes fall, even if wages are nominally unchanged. With price inflation, one hundred dollars buys less today than it did last year. Or, to put our monetary history in perspective, what five dollars bought in 1914, when the Fed first opened its doors, today costs about one hundred dollars. A wage increase might make up some lost ground, but people on fixed incomes don't get wage increases, so they're out of luck. Also, prices typically rise faster than wages during an inflationary period.
Related Topics: Business, Inflation, Prices
UpdIntroduction, by Donald Rutherford (editor), Collected Works of Nassau William Senior, 1998
Biographical and bibliographical essay on Nassau William Senior
The central concern of Senior in his discussions of wages was an exposition of the wages fund doctrine ... If machinery is introduced, then there is a temporary reduction in the wages fund with fewer funds available for employing and paying workers but in the long run the general rate of wages will rise or remain the same ... Senior was keen to emphasize that wages are essentially the consequence of a bargain between employer and worker, each attending to his own welfare. Individual workers can improve their wages, measured in terms of ... commodities ..., by working harder for longer hours.
The Labor Theory of Value (An Analysis), by Donald C. Ernsberger, Jarret Wollstein (editor), 1988
Examines Marx's Labor Theory of Value, including an example, and compares it to the market-exchange theory, exploring some of the flaws in the former
Perhaps the most grievous theoretical fault with the labor theory is that it ignores what economists call time preference. Time preference is the common strong preference for goods and services here and now, rather than later ... For example, most workers prefer to be paid when their work is completed rather than when their products are sold—which may be months later. For workers to be paid now, rather than later, someone must advance their wages, and clearly this service has a value. But proponents of the labor theory would have it both ways: workers are to receive the full future value of their product now.
Of the Wages of Labour, by Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations, 1776
Book One, Chapter VIII
The produce of labour constitutes the natural recompence or wages of labour. In that original state of things, which precedes both the appropriation of land and the accumulation of stock, the whole produce of labour belongs to the labourer. He has neither landlord nor master to share with him. Had this state continued, the wages of labour would have augmented with all those improvements in its productive powers, to which the division of labour gives occasion. All things would gradually have become cheaper
Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America, by Richard Ebeling, Freedom Daily, Oct 1993
Review of Out of Work: Unemployment and Government in Twentieth-Century America (1993) by Richard K. Vedder and Lowell E. Gallaway
The problem, Vedder and Gallaway argue, is that real wages — the real cost of hiring workers after adjusting for changes in productivity and in the selling prices of goods in relation to the money wages paid to workers — had actually increased during the early years of the Great Depression, making it increasingly costly for employers to keep workers on the job. ... under Herbert Hoover's leadership, pressure was placed on industrial employers to not lower wages ... The 'high-wage' policy, in the face of falling consumer prices, only succeeded in pricing workers out of the labor market ...
Related Topics: Ludwig von Mises, Unemployment
Ricardo, David (1772-1823), by Mark Skousen, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
... this abstract reasoning ... has been called the 'Ricardian Vice.' ... Ricardo created an oversimplified 'corn' model that led to an antagonistic view of capitalism, where values are determined by labor inputs and where wages can only increase at the expense of profits. His analysis of the nature of production concluded that wages tend toward subsistence levels, known as the iron law of wages. Ricardo thought that over time, as the population grew, an increased demand for food would have the natural effect of raising its price, which would lead to an increase in the value of labor.
Related Topic: David Ricardo
Social Security Has to Go, by Sheldon Richman, Jan 1998
Examines the U.S. Social Security system, including the employee and employer "contributions", the "trust fund" and how it may fare in the future
[If] the government wasn't taking all that money for Social Security (and other things), we would have more to save. Which brings up another fraudulent aspect of the system: the employer "contribution." Even though your employer appears to pay half of the roughly 12 percent of your pay that is taken, he really doesn't. You pay it. For the employer, it is part of your compensation package, a cost of hiring you, and thus money that would have been left in your pay envelope. The government makes it look like an employer contribution to keep you from getting mad.
The State Is No Friend of the Worker, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 24 Oct 2014
Discusses how the state interferes with setting wage rates and quotes Thomas Hodgskin on how to reward workers properly
The fact is that no politician, bureaucrat, economist, or pundit can say what anyone's labor is worth. That can only be fairly determined through the unadulterated competitive market process ... If the market is free of competition-inhibiting government privileges and restrictions, we may assume that wages will roughly approximate worth according to the market participants' subjective valuations ... Being able to tell a boss, "Take this job and shove it," because alternatives, including self-employment, are available, is an effective way to establish the true market value of one's labor ...
Teaching Basic Economics to Fifth Graders, by Arthur E. Foulkes, 21 Jun 2006
Recounts the experience of teaching economics to fifth graders, one concept per week, for five weeks, focusing on trade, money, savings, competition and prices
After [the auction] exercise we discussed how what we had just learned about prices for goods might apply to salaries for the different careers they had discussed at the beginning ... We found that the same rules that established prices for the goods in the auction would also establish salaries or wages for different careers. Demand for a labor service—acting on the available supply of people who can perform that service—will set the "wage" for that service. Thus supply and demand, we found, could explain both the price of goods and the price of the human factors supplying those goods.
Unemployment by Legal Decree, by Bettina Bien Greaves, The Freeman, Aug 1956
Discusses the $1.00 an hour minimum wage law passed in March 1956 and its effects, in particular, in Puerto Rico where the legal minimum appeared to be already too high for that market
A seller is entitled to the price a consumer is willing to pay for what he offers. A worker, who is the seller of his own labor, is entitled to the wage an employer is willing to pay. For practical reasons, the employer is usually guided, in deciding how much he can pay, by his estimate of the price consumers will pay for the worker's product. The market price of the worker's contribution will vary with the constantly changing structure of the market. Consequently, any attempt to set the rate by law will sooner or later lead to discrepancies in the pricing system and to distortion of the pattern of production.
Wages, by Ludwig von Mises, Human Action, 1949
Chapter 21 "Work and Wages", section 3; discusses labor, wages, how are wages determined and erroneus attacks on that explanation
Labor is a scarce factor of production. As such it is sold and bought on the market. The price paid for labor is included in the price allowed for the product or the services if the performer of the work is the seller of the product or the services. If bare labor is sold and bought as such, either by an entrepreneur engaged in production for sale or by a consumer eager to use the services rendered for his own consumption, the price paid is called wages.
Related Topics: Entrepreneurship, Labor
What About Immigration?, by Julian Simon, The Freeman, Jan 1986
Examines the economic impact of immigration to the United States, including actual levels of legal and illegal immigration, effect on unemployment, wages, services used, taxes paid and productivity
The impact of immigration is likely to be greater on wages than on unemployment rates, because potential immigrants with skills that are in low demand choose not to migrate, and those with salable skills gravitate to industries where there are jobs. This will have some downward pressure on wages. For example, immigrant physicians are more likely to reduce a native physician's yearly income than to throw him or her out of work. Barton Smith and Robert Newman found that adjusted wages are just 8 per cent lower in the Texas border cities where the proportion of Mexicans is relatively high ...
William Harold Hutt, in Memoriam, by Murray N. Rothbard, The Free Market, Sep 1988
Biographical and memorial essay; also published as chapter 107 of Making Economic Sense (1995)
Hutt's first great contribution to economics was his concise and lucid The Theory of Collective Bargaining (P.S. King, 1930), which remains to this day the best book on the theory of wage determination. In this book, Hutt criticized many of the classical economists, and showed conclusively that unions cannot increase general wage rates, and that particular wage increases can only come at the expense of a dislocation of labor and a fall in wage rates of other workers.


The Roots of the Great Depression, by Richard Timberlake, Navigator, Jan 2001
Interview topics include the Federal Reserve policy during 1920-1939, the British attempt to return the pound to its World War I value and U.S. interventions during the Hoover and Roosevelt administrations
Timberlake: There is no such thing as a "price-wage spiral," or a "wage-price spiral." Wages are money prices for labor. Prices are money values for finished goods and services, and capital ... When the NIRA artificially raised wages or prices in one sector of the economy, prices in other sectors of the economy compensated reciprocally through market channels. Such acts distorted economic behavior and misallocated resources, but had very little if any effect on the general price level ... Those who profess a "wage-price spiral" are not allowing for economic reactions and adjustments ...


The Real "Truth About the Economy:" Have Wages Stagnated?, by Donald J. Boudreaux, 31 Jan 2012
Responds to Robert Reich's video "The Truth About the Economy" (13 Jun 2011) focusing on three points: measures of inflation, benefits other than wages and distinguishing between statistics and individuals

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Wage" as of 30 Oct 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.