For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Practices, Firms and Varieties of Capitalism"

by Keat, R (2008)


Against MacIntyre’s view that capitalism is incompatible with the conduct of economic production as a genuine practice, this paper claims that capitalist economies take a number of institutionally distinct forms, and that these differ significantly in the extent to which, and the reasons for which, they are antithetical to production as a practice. Drawing on the extensive literature in comparative political economy on varieties of capitalism, it argues that while ‘Liberal’ Market Economies such as the USA and UK conform quite closely to MacIntyre’s understanding of capitalism, ‘Coordinated’ Market Economies such as Germany and Japan do not. In particular, the industry-based associations of the German model are argued to be highly conducive to the internal goods and standards of excellence central to MacIntyrean practices.

Key Passage

Putting aside the claims about incremental innovation, what is important for my purposes is that these characteristics of work in CMEs [Coordinated Market Economies] – the use of high levels of skill, combined with the absence of close supervision and opportunities for initiative - correspond closely to those identified in numerous studies as the key sources of so-called intrinsic work satisfaction. By contrast, when work is unskilled, repetitive and closely monitored (especially when this is connected to ‘payment by results’ reward systems), there is little possibility of such intrinsic satisfaction, and hence of work being valued in anything other than an instrumental way. So what HCMEs [Horizontally Coordinated Market Economies] provide are the institutional conditions that enable people to value their work for these non-pecuniary reasons. This does not mean they have no interest in financial rewards, only that their pursuit and enjoyment of these will be at least complemented, and perhaps partly displaced, by their pursuit and enjoyment of the intrinsic satisfactions associated with their exercise of complex skills and independent judgment. But in thus combining the pursuit of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards, they do not differ radically from the members of MacIntyre’s practice-crew who, as he emphasises, are not uninterested in external goods. ….. show that HCMEs are conducive to the existence and enjoyment of a practice’s internal goods, something more is required. But this, I will now argue, can be provided by considering the implications of the industry-based associations that distinguish this kind of capitalism from both LMEs [Liberal Market Economies] and VCMEs [Vertically Coordinated Market Economies]. As we have seen, one of the key functions of these associations is the provision of training and qualifications that are recognised by, and transferable between, different companies in the same industry. Thus what is acquired is not only a set of skills that is financially advantageous, and a source of intrinsic satisfaction, but a publicly certified competence to engage in a certain domain of production. These are skills that enable one to contribute to, and perform well in, a productive activity with its own standards of excellence, and hence to appreciate and enjoy its internal goods. (p.84)


Macintyre, Capitalism, Firms, Economics, Liberalism, Market Economy


On MacIntyre, Capitalism

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