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On the definition of involuntary unemployment


  • Sawyer, Malcolm
  • Spencer, David


Keynes gave two definitions of involuntary unemployment which could be seen more as tests for the existence of involuntary unemployment than definitions. It is argued that Keynes's definitions are inadequate as tests of unemployment and in many circumstances would fail to reveal the existence of unemployment. We argue that unemployment as a theoretical construct is always involuntary, and the appearance of voluntary unemployment arises only through the mismeasurement of unemployment. We argue that involuntary unemployment has to be viewed as a macroeconomic concept rather than a microeconomic one. In a collective sense, the degree of unemployment is not the outcome of decisions made by the individuals concerned.

Suggested Citation

  • Sawyer, Malcolm & Spencer, David, 2008. "On the definition of involuntary unemployment," Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (formerly The Journal of Socio-Economics), Elsevier, vol. 37(2), pages 718-735, April.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:soceco:v:37:y:2008:i:2:p:718-735

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. David A. Spencer, 2006. "Work for all those who want it? Why the neoclassical labour supply curve is an inappropriate foundation for the theory of employment and unemployment," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 30(3), pages 459-472, May.
    2. Weitzman, Martin L, 1982. "Increasing Returns and the Foundations of Unemployment Theory," Economic Journal, Royal Economic Society, vol. 92(368), pages 787-804, December.
    3. Michel, DE VROEY, 2005. "Involuntary Unemployment : the Elusive Quest for a Theory," Discussion Papers (ECON - Département des Sciences Economiques) 2005004, Université catholique de Louvain, Département des Sciences Economiques.
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    Cited by:

    1. Yasuhiro Sakai, 2017. "Involuntary Unemployment versus "Involuntary Employment" : J.M. Keynes and Beyond," Discussion Papers CRR Discussion Paper Series A: General 25, Shiga University, Faculty of Economics,Center for Risk Research.

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