Skip to main content

Module Reading List

The Political Economy of Work, 2018/19, Semester 2
Prof. David Spencer
Tutor information is taken from the Module Catalogue

A suite of rooms for this module has been set up on the University’s VLE. Copies of lecture notes and/or other resources will be available from here.

The module will draw on the following book The political economy of work (Routledge: 2009). Copies are available in the library but not enough to go around. The book is available in paperback and kindle format. Ideally you would buy a copy of the book (and read it from cover to cover!).

A list of readings for each lecture is given below and most of these can be accessed through the library. Some key readings may be distributed in the lectures. I may look to add in new readings as the module progresses.

Lecture 1: Introduction

This lecture draws on a number of readings listed below. For some general information on the history of ideas on work and labour in economics see:

Spencer, D. (2009) The political economy of work , chapter 1

For further reading, see:

McNulty, P. (1980) The origins and development of labor economics : a chapter in the history of social thought Cambridge Mass: MIT Press, Intro. & Ch. 1

Spencer, D. (2014) Conceptualising Work in Economics: Negating a Disutility, Kyklos., 67: 280–294.

A useful introduction to the conception of work in general is:

K. Thomas (ed.) (1999) The Oxford book of work , Oxford: Oxford University Press. See especially the introductory chapter.

There are also a number of books on work aimed at a general readership. These include:

Alain De Botton (2008), The pleasures and sorrows of work , Penguin

Matthew Crawford (2009), The case for working with your hands, or, Why office work is bad for us and fixing things feels good , Viking

And related books in other disciplines, such as sociology.

Kathi Weeks, (2011), The problem with work : feminism, Marxism, antiwork politics, and postwork imaginaries, Duke University Press.

Top of page

Lecture 2: Mercantilism and the 'Utility of Poverty' Thesis

For discussion of the mercantilist literature, see:

Spencer, D. (2009) The political economy of work , early sections of chapter 2.

Coats, A.W. (1958) ‘Changing Attitudes to Labour in the Mid-Eighteenth Century’, The economic history review. , vol.11, 35-51

Dew, B. (2007) ‘Political Economy and the Problem of the Plebs in Eighteenth Century Britain’, History compass. , vol. 5, no. 4, pp.1214-1235.

Firth, A. (2002) ‘Moral Supervision and Autonomous Social Order: Wages and Consumption in 18 th -Century Economic Thought’, History of Human Sciences , vol. 15, no. 1, pp.39-57 Available online .

Furniss, E. (1920) The position of the laborer in a system of nationalism : a study in the labor theories of the later English mercantilists , New York: Houghton Mifflin. This a classical text that covers in a masterful way the views of mercantilist writers towards work, poverty, and workers

Hatcher, J. (1998) ‘ Labour, Leisure and Economic Thought before the Nineteenth Century’, Past & present. , 160, pp.64-115.

Top of page

Lecture 3: Classical Political Economy and the Labour Problem

For a general overview, see:

Spencer, D. (2009) The political economy of work , later sections of chapter 2, plus chapter 3

Coats, A.W. (1992) ‘The classical economists and the labourer’, in A.W. Coats, British and American economic essays. Volume 1, On the history of economic thought . London: Routledge, pp.159-185. Available online

For discussion of Adam Smith’s ideas on work see:

Marshall , M. (1998) ‘Scottish Economic Thought and the High Wage Economy: Hume, Smith and McCulloch on Wages and Work Motivation’, Scottish journal of political economy. , vol.45, 309-328.

McNulty, P.J. (1980) The origins and development of labor economics : a chapter in the history of social thought , Cambridge Mass: MIT Press, Ch. 2

Perelman, M. (2010), ‘Adam Smith: Class, labor, and the industrial revolution’, Journal of economic behavior & organization. , vol.76, issue 3, pp. 481-496.

West, E. (1975) ‘Adam Smith and Alienation: Wealth Increases, Man Decays? ’, in Andrew S. Skinner and Thomas Wilson (eds) Essays on Adam Smith ( Oxford: Clarendon Press), pp.540-52. Available as an Online Course Reading in Minerva

For information on the views of the classical economists towards factory reform, see:

Blaug M. (1958) ‘The Classical Economists and the Factory Acts – A Re-Examination’, The quarterly journal of economics. , vol.72, pp.211-226.

Nyland C. (1986) ‘Capitalism and the History of Work-time Thought’, The British journal of sociology. , vol.37, 513-34.

For information on J.S. Mill, see:

Medearis, J. (2005) ‘Labor, Democarcy, Utility, and Mill’s Critique of Private Property’, American journal of political science. , vol. 49, no. 1, pp.135-49.

Top of page

Lecture 4: Alienated Labour: the Marxian View of Work

For a general overview, see:

Spencer, D. (2009) The political economy of work , chapter 4

Sayers, S. (2005) ‘Why Work? Marxism and Human Nature’, Science & society. , vol. 69 no. 4, pp. 606-16

For classical statement of Marx’s own views on work, see:

Marx, K. (1844) ‘Estranged labour’, from Estranged labour [electronic resource] , accessible at

Useful commentary on Marx’s theory of alienation can be found in:

Braverman, H. (1974) ‘Labor and Labor Power’, Ch.1, Labor and Monopoly Capital. The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century , New York: Monthly Review Press.

Noon, M. and Blyton P. (2002) The Realities of Work, Palgrave: Basingstoke, pp.228-232.

Pagano, U. (1985) Work and welfare in economic theory Oxford: Blackwell, pp.49-62.

Top of page

Lecture 5: Work as a Disutility: Concepts of Work in Neoclassical Economics

For overview of early debates on work in neoclassical economics, see:

Spencer, D. (2009) The political economy of work chapter 5

Spencer, D.A. (2003) ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost? The Disutility of Work and Work Avoidance in the Economic Analysis of Labour Supply’, Review of social economy. vol.61, no.2, 235-60.

Spencer, D.A. (2004) ‘From Pain Cost to Opportunity Cost: The Eclipse of the Quality of Work as a Factor in Economic Theory’, History of Political Economy. vol.36, no.2, pp.387-401.

Pagano, U. (1985) Work and welfare in economic theory Oxford: Blackwell, Ch.5

For specific discussion of contribution of Marshall, see:

Bowman, R. (2004) ‘Marshall: Just How Interested in Doing Good Was He? ’, Journal of the history of economic thought. , vol. 24, pp.493-518.

Matthews, R.C.O. (1990) ‘Marshall and the Labour Market’, in J. Whitaker (ed.), Centenary essays on Alfred Marshall , Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.14–43.

O’Connor J. (1961) ‘Smith and Marshall on the Individual’s Supply of Labour’, Industrial and labor relations review. , vol.14, pp. 273-276.

Top of page

Lecture 6: Work as a Human Activity: The Contribution of Institutional Labour Economics

For discussion of institutional labour economics, its nature, evolution and eventual demise, see:

Spencer, D. (2009) The political economy of work , chapter 6

Boyer, G. and R. Smith, (2001) ‘The Development of the Neoclassical Tradition in Labor Economics’, Industrial and labor relations review. , vol.54, No.2.

Kaufman, Bruce, (2010) 'The Theoretical Foundations of Industrial Relations and its Implications for Labor Economics and Human Resource Management', Industrial and labor relations review., Vol. 64, No. 1 (October 2010), pp. 74-108.

For discussion of the contribution of Veblen, see:

Veblen, T. (1898) ‘The Instinct of Workmanship and the Irksomeness of Labor’, American Journal of Sociology. vol. 4, pp.187-201.

Hodgson, G. (2004) The evolution of institutional economics : agency, structure, and Darwinism in American institutionalism London: Routledge, Ch.9-10.

Top of page

Lecture 7: Work as an Opportunity Cost: The Neoclassical Labour Supply Model and Its Critics

See standard labour economics textbook for a refresher on labour supply model

For criticisms of above model, see:

Cowling, K. (2005) ‘Prosperity, Depression and Modern Capitalism’, Kyklos. , vol. 59, no 3, pp.369-381.

Philp B. (2001) ‘Marxism, Neoclassical Economics and the Length of the Working Day’, Review of political economy. , vol.13, 27-39.

Prasch, R.E. (2000) ‘Reassessing the Labor Supply Curve’, Journal of economic issues. , vol.34, 679-692.

Sawyer, M.C. and Spencer, D.A. (2010) ‘ Labour Supply, Employment and Unemployment in Macroeconomics: A Critical Appraisal of Orthodoxy and a Heterodox Alternative’, Review of political economy. , vol. 22, Number 2, pp.263–279

Spencer, D.A. (2001) ‘All work and no play? A comment on Prasch’s ‘Reassessing the Labor Supply Curve’’, Journal of economic issues. vol.35, 995-1000

Spencer, D.A. (2004) ‘Deconstructing the Labour Supply Curve’, Metroeconomica. , vol. 55, no. 4, pp.442-458.

Vatter, H. (1961) ‘On the Folklore of the Backward Sloping Supply Curve’, Industrial and labor relations review. , vol.14, 580-582.

Top of page

Lecture 8: Work time and work time regulation

Bosch, G. and Lehndorff, S. (2001) ‘Working-time reduction and employment: experiences in Europe and economic policy recommendations’, Cambridge Journal of economics. 25 : 209-243

Cowling, K. (2005) ‘Prosperity, Depression and Modern Capitalism’, Kyklos. , vol. 59, no 3, pp.369-381.

Golden, L, (2008) ‘ A Brief History of Long Work Time and the Contemporary Sources of Overwork’, Lonnie Golden, Journal of business ethics. , Springer, vol. 84(2), 217-227

Golden, L, (2010) Purpose for Every Time? The Timing and Length of the Work Week and Implications for Worker Well-Being’, Connecticut Law Review , Vol. 42, No. 4, pp. 53-74.

Philp, B., G. Slater and D. Harvie: 2005, ‘Preferences, Power, and the Determination of Working Hours’, Journal of economic issues. 39(1), 75–91.

Schor, J. (1993) The overworked American : the unexpected decline of leisure , New York: Basic Books.

Skidelsky, Robert and Skidelsky Edward (2013) How Much Is Enough , Allen Lane, see chapter I. Available as an Online Course Reading in Minerva Available as an Online Course Reading in Minerva.

Swaffield, J. and M B Stewart. (1997) ‘Constraints on the desired hours of work of British men.’ Economic journal. 107(441), 520-535

Top of page

Lecture 9: Opening up the ‘black-box’: perspectives on work in modern economics

For an overview and critique of recent contributions to the mainstream economics literature on work, see:

Spencer, D. (2009) The political economy of work , chapter 7

For overview of economics approach to human resources, see:

Lazear, E. and Shaw, K. (2007). ‘ Personnel Economics: The Economist’s View of Human Resources’. The journal of economic perspectives. 21 (4): 91–114.

For critical commentaries on modern economic analysis of work, worker motivation, and work organisation see:

Edwards P. (1990) ‘The Politics of Conflict and Consent: How the Labor Contract Really Works’, Journal of economic behavior & organization. , vol.13, 41-61.

Ellingsen, T. and Johannesson, M. (2007). ‘ Paying Respect’. The journal of economic perspectives. , 21 (4): 135–149.

Osterman, P. (2009) ‘The Contours of Institutional Labour Economics: Notes Towards a Revived Discipline’, Socio-economic review , 7: 695-708. See also responses to Osterman in same issue of this journal.

Pfeffer, J. (2007). ‘ Human Resources from an Organizational Behavior Perspective: Some Paradoxes Explained’. The journal of economic perspectives. , 21 (4): 115–134.

Spencer, D.A. (2011) ‘Getting personnel: contesting and transcending the ‘new labour economics’’, Work, employment and society. vol. 25 no. 1 118-131 .

Spencer, D. A. (2013) 'Barbarians at the Gate: A Critical Appraisal of the Influence of Economics on the Field and Practice of HRM' Human resource management journal. , vol.23, pp.346-359.

Top of page

Lecture 10: Debates on the Quality of Work: The Uses and Misuses of Job Satisfaction Data

For a very useful introduction to debates regarding the quality of work, especially in economics, see Francis Green (2006) Demanding Work , Princeton: Princeton University Press. See especially chapter 1, which is available free of charge at

For general debates on well-being, including job quality, see:

Layard, R. (2005) Happiness: Lessons from a New Science , London: Penguin Books.

Kahneman, D. and Krueger, A. (2006). ‘ Developments in the Measurement of Subjective Well-Being’. The journal of economic perspectives. Volume , 20 (1): 3–24.

For discussion on trends in job quality in Britain, see:

Brown, A., Charlwood, A., Forde, C. and Spencer, D. (2007) ‘Job Quality and the Economics of New Labour: A Critical Appraisal Using Subjective Survey Data’, Cambridge journal of economics. , vol. 31, pp.941-972.

Brown, A., Charlwood, A, and Spencer, D. (2012) 'Not all that it might seem: why job satisfaction is worth studying, despite it being a poor summary measure of job quality', Work, employment and society. , vol.27, pp. 1007-1018.

Top of page

Lecture 11: Reflections and Conclusions (+ Exam)

This list was last updated on 14/01/2015