All Work and No Play? A Comment on Prasch's "Reassessing the Labor Supply Curve". (Notes and Communications)

By Spencer, David A. | Journal of Economic Issues, December 2001 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

All Work and No Play? A Comment on Prasch's "Reassessing the Labor Supply Curve". (Notes and Communications)


Spencer, David A., Journal of Economic Issues


**********

In a recent paper in this journal, Robert E. Prasch (2000) offered a timely commentary on the problematical status of the standard labor supply curve. His key argument was that the marginal utility of leisure time is negative at low levels of income. For low-income workers, leisure time will prove a source of deep malaise and this will compel them to prolong their hours of paid work even though the returns from working time may be low. In this case, contra orthodox theory, poorer workers will not seek more leisure time as wages fall. Indeed, by working longer hours, Prasch argued, these workers can achieve the income they require to "enjoy leisure." This focus on high income as the solution to the problem of leisure is challenged below.

The following comment is divided into two sections. The first deals with the relationship between income and leisure. Higher income, it is argued, need not raise the utility of leisure time if workers are affected adversely through working longer work hours. The second section re-examines the distinction between work and leisure. The important point is not whether workers like or dislike leisure time but that their collective freedom under capitalism is limited to non-work time. In a negative sense, therefore, leisure time represents the subordinate position of workers vis-a-vis work. In this light, it is insufficient to focus merely on low income; the status of leisure itself needs to be confronted especially as it "opposes" work.

Income and Leisure

The opportunity cost of working time has traditionally occupied a central place in the economics of labor supply. Workers gain utility from leisure time and thus will forgo working time unless financially compensated. High (low) wages induce workers to spend less (more) of their time "enjoying leisure." Prasch rightly criticized this approach. Most workers rely upon paid employment for their livelihoods and thus will be forced to continue working even if paid low wages. In short, workers do not choose to be unemployed. As Prasch put it, "a destitute worker, who spends his or her 'leisure' looking for work, negotiating with the bureaucracy of an increasingly intrusive and judgmental welfare state, or listening to her [sic] children plead for food, may perceive additional 'leisure' hours to be both long and painful" (2000, 685). The rich, by contrast, have the advantage of being able to pay others to undertake "personal work" such as washing and cleaning that otherwise make leisure time less rewarding.

Neoclassical economists have conceptualized leisure in a rather undifferentiated way. Leisure represents the time workers spend not working for wages (Prasch 2000, 683). On this basis, it is presumed that leisure time is a "good" (i.e., yields positive marginal utility). It is also assumed that more leisure is always preferred to less leisure, no matter how much leisure time is involved. Prasch's response was to argue that leisure time may be experienced as unpleasant (e.g., "personal work," finding a job if unemployed, surviving on low income). In this case, the labor supply schedule will be "forward-bending" at lower wage levels. That is, workers will be willing to supply more labor (i.e., work longer hours) even though the monetary rewards of working hours are low because this offers them a route out of destitution.

Prasch did not suggest that workers desire any fewer hours of leisure time. Instead he merely argued that workers will strive for greater income to make their available leisure time more pleasurable. He did not alter orthodox reasoning in this respect. But for negative marginal utility at low-income levels, workers would be content to maximize their leisure time. Prasch was completely silent, however, on the benefits of leisure time. Certainly, it is not work as such (including work effort) that leads workers to acquire "tastes" for leisure since the only aspect of work considered is the wage.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

All Work and No Play? A Comment on Prasch's "Reassessing the Labor Supply Curve". (Notes and Communications)
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?