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Interpretations of the Classic: The Theory of Wages


  • Antonella Stirati


The well-known enduring controversy on the interpretation of Ricardo's wage theory, and by implication on classical wage theory, has undoubtedly been fuelled by the existence of some inconsistencies in Ricardo's writings. However, as far as the factors affecting normal wages are concerned, these inconsistencies may carry less weight than is usually believed.. The present paper aims to provide a critical overview of the controversy concerning the interpretation of the theory of wages in classical economists, offering a somewhat unusual perspective. I contend that there are major similarities between the two interpretations that have been regarded as the main contenders, the so-called New view and Fix wage interpretations. Due to these similarities, the controversy has tended to neglect a decisive point for the interpretation of the theory of wages in Ricardo and other classical economists, namely, the meaning of 'demand for labour' in classical thought. I also maintain that there is a third point of view concerning the interpretation of wage theory in the classical economists, which has not been accurately understood and discussed in earlier surveys of the controversy. Unlike the others, this Alternative interpretation, as I shall label it for brevity, centers on the absence of a systematic decreasing relation between real wages and employment in Ricardo and other classical economists. The Alternative interpretation will be presented in some detail, and some questions posed by the New view will be assessed from the point of view of this alternative interpretation.

Suggested Citation

  • Antonella Stirati, 2010. "Interpretations of the Classic: The Theory of Wages," Departmental Working Papers of Economics - University 'Roma Tre' 0116, Department of Economics - University Roma Tre.
  • Handle: RePEc:rtr:wpaper:0116

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    Cited by:

    1. Stirati, Antonella, 2014. "Real wages in the business cycle: an unresolved conflict between theory and facts in mainstream macroeconomics," MPRA Paper 53743, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    2. Antonella Stirati, 2016. "Real wages in the business cycle and the theory of income distribution: an unresolved conflict between theory and facts in mainstream macroeconomics," Cambridge Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 40(2), pages 639-661.

    More about this item


    Classical economists; Classical theory of wages; David Ricardo; Adam Smith;

    JEL classification:

    • B10 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - General
    • B12 - Schools of Economic Thought and Methodology - - History of Economic Thought through 1925 - - - Classical (includes Adam Smith)

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