For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Meaningful Work and Market Socialism Revisited"

by Arneson, Richard J (2009)


If the economy consisted of labor-managed firms, so the workplace is democratic, and in addition the benefits and burdens of economic cooperation were shared equitably and the economy operated efficiently, might there still be a morally compelling case for further intervention into economic arrangements so as to increase the degree to which people gain meaningful or satisfying work? ‘No!’, answers a 1987 essay by the author. This comment argues against that judgment, on the ground that morally required perfectionism or paternalism or simple fairness to the worse off might demand such intervention. It is plausible to hold the good life includes meaningful work, and that what we fundamentally owe one another is a fair distribution of good quality of life. However, this comment also takes issue with Russell Keats’s argument against Arneson in his essay in this issue of this journal.

Key Passage

Intervening in the market processes to bring about greater satisfaction of the particular preference for meaningful work unfairly privileges certain preferences (and the people to whom they happen to be important) over other preferences (and people), and this is morally wrong. The key point is that there are a great many goods other than meaningful work that people might reasonably pursue via their economic activity. There is no good perfectionist case that meaningful work trumps these other goods, and no good paternalist case that overruling people's own judgements to pursue some mix of goods other than meaningful work would advance their interests in morally acceptable ways.  (p.140)


Marx, Market Socialism, Socialism, Political Economy, Distribution


Market Socialism, Meaningful Work, Goods of Work

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