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The workers are not horses: analytical perspectives, economic theories and welfare policy


  • Antonella Picchio


The objective of this paper is to argue that welfare policies are undermined not only by a lack of pubblic resources and efficiency, but also by a reductive analytical perspective on the life-cycle process of social reproduction of real men and women. In the economic framework, daily lives remain out of focus and with no clear position, and this lack of clarity affects the way welfare policies are argued for and implemented. In this paper we work through the history of economic thought searching fot fruitful insights, concepts and analytical tools with which to study and discuss real lives, expecially those of men and women who belong to the labouring population. Robbins, Marshall, Keynes, and a Sraffian classical politicaleconomy approach, are here surveyd looking for perspectives, concepts and analytical frameworks (sections 2-5). In the final sections (6-7) we introduce two approaches that directly focus on living conditions: 1) Sen's Capability approach to well-being seen as a multidimensional space defined by a composition of capabilities and effective functionings of different individuals, embedded in specific social and relational contexts. 2) An "extended reproductive macroeconomic approach" that includes among the structural processes also the process of social reproduction that enables people to work and live a sustainable life. To clarify the conditions of sustainability this approach makes visible the aggregate of unpaid domestic and care work, which in industrialized countries is slightly larger than total paid work - a growing amount, grossly unequally distributed between men and women. Finally, the reproductive macro economic approach is visualized in a chart showing a process of conversion of means into effective well-being of real individuals, defined by their bodies, relations and personal histories and embedded in a social and policy context (section 8).

Suggested Citation

  • Antonella Picchio, 2008. "The workers are not horses: analytical perspectives, economic theories and welfare policy," Politica economica, Società editrice il Mulino, issue 3, pages 271-310.
  • Handle: RePEc:mul:je8794:doi:10.1429/28760:y:2008:i:3:p:271-310

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