Just Wages in Which Markets?
The Embeddedness of Markets and the Very Idea of an Unjust Wage
Joseph Heath argues that we should reject the idea of a ‘just wage’ because market prices are supposed to signal scarcities and thereby to promote overall efficiency, rather than reward contributions. This argument overlooks the degree to which markets are institutionally, socially, and culturally embedded. Their outcomes are hardly ever ‘pure’ market outcomes, but the result of complex interactions of economic and other factors, including various forms of power. Instead of rejecting moral intuitions about wage justice as misguided, we can often understand them as pointing towards questions about the embeddedness of markets, or lack thereof. At least in some cases, changes in the framework of markets can both increase efficiency (or at least not reduce it) and get us closer to conventional notions of fair wages, e.g. when gender discrimination is reduced. Thus, while an abstract notion of a ‘just wage’ remains problematic, we can and should recognize that some wages are unjust.