Is the Market Wage the Just Wage?

A Reassessment of Factor Pricing and Distributive Justice

Do markets generate a “just” wage? The answer to this question will depend upon the particular theory of the market that the political economist employs. When comparing actual labor markets with the neoclassical theory of competitive equilibrium as its normative benchmark, Joseph Heath (2018) argues that factor pricing is orthogonal to normative issues such as distributive justice. We argue that Heath’s conclusion, though not invalid, follows from a similar normative benchmark of equilibrium, one that evaluates factor pricing without taking into account the institutional conditions within which factor prices emerge. Though indeed classical political economists and early neoclassical economists failed to deliver an explicit theory of distributive justice, what Heath overlooks is that implicit to their understanding of the market process was an institutional theory of distributive justice.

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