The Elgar Companion to Social Economics
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The Elgar Companion to Social Economics

Edited by John B. Davis and Wilfred Dolfsma

As this comprehensive Companion demonstrates, social economics is a dynamic and growing field that emphasizes the key role that values play in the economy and in economic life. Social economics treats the economy and economics as being embedded in the larger web of social and ethical relationships. It also regards economics and ethics as essentially connected, and adds values such as justice, fairness, dignity, well-being, freedom and equality to the standard emphasis on efficiency. The Elgar Companion to Social Economics brings together the leading contributors in the field to elucidate a wide range of recent developments across different subject areas and topics. In so doing the contributors also map the likely trends and directions of future research. This Companion will undoubtedly become a leading reference source and guide to social economics for many years to come.
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Chapter 36: Exploitation and Surplus

Philip Anthony O’Hara


Phillip Anthony O’Hara Introduction Exploitation has a number of meanings in social economics, ranging from ‘reasonably utilizing a resource for advantage’, ‘unfairly utilizing a resource for advantage’, to ‘illegally utilizing a resource for advantage’. The type of exploitation examined in this chapter could be described in any of these ways, depending on the perspective of the social scientist. Indeed, various authors utilize ‘exploitation’ in one or more of these three ways, variously emphasizing the more positive and others the more normative elements of the social process. Many authors, however, examine exploitation without the concept of surplus or profit (e.g. Wertheimer, 1996), and these works are not part of this chapter. Specifically, this work links exploitation with surplus, in particular surplus product, surplus value or profit.1 A surplus in social economics is that portion of a product or financial arrangement left over after costs. Typically, for businesses it represents revenue minus costs of wages, materials and depreciation. Every society has a surplus, in the sense that, from time to time, the total production exceeds the necessary consumption of ‘the people’. However, the surpluses of some societies are larger than others. For instance, the surplus of hunter-gatherer societies may be only seasonal or cyclical, since such people prefer leisure and/or they fail to have the productive capacity to produce a sustainable surplus. In any case, there is not usually a large parasitic class to support from the surplus (Sanderson, 1991, pp. 250–51). A surplus becomes more necessary in...

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