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

In some range of these cases, a welfarist egalitarian might be able to block the complaint of the frustrated fans of meaningful work from having a claim to extra resources in response to their frustration, on the ground that it is the fault or voluntary choice of the fans that has placed them in this predicament. But in other cases, this excuse compatible with welfarism for declining to intervene will not be available (see Arneson 2000; 2001; 2007). Suppose these people have come to have a need for meaningful work through prudent and responsible conduct of life, so one cannot say of them either that they deserve to suer low lifetime welfare in virtue of prior misconduct or that they freely made choices that involved gambles, and therefore they should absorb the consequences for themselves of those gambles that turned out badly (just as they would have been entitled to the nice consequences falling on them if those gambles had turned out successfully). There is no plausible `they misbehaved' or `they freely took risks' story to be told about these individuals. In this case, which for all that has been said might be a very common case, welfarist distributive justice demands compensation for the individuals and the most eective and sensible form of compensation might be provision of meaningful work opportunities to them. (p.144)


Marx, Market Socialism, Socialism, Political Economy, Distribution


Market Socialism, Meaningful Work, Goods of Work

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