Contemporary mainstream economists see social wealth as the sum of individual incomes, but for three centuries many economists saw wealth as consisting of the public and private resources of a nation. This led them to explore the idea of unproductive labour, which provides a nation with an individual income, but does not contribute to an increase in social wealth or help to foster development.

This book analyses the evolution of ideas surrounding unproductive labour, offering an unprecedented history that guides readers from the work of Petty through to the present economic crisis. This volume explores the work of several key scholars, including Smith, Petty, Marx, Ricardo, Mill, Say and Schumpeter.

This book is suitable for scholars and researchers with an interest in the history of economic thought, labour economics and economic philosophy.

Winner of the 2019 Ernest Lluch Prize from the Spanish Association of Economic History

chapter I|4 pages


What is unproductive labour

chapter II|12 pages

Unproductive labour before Smith 1

chapter III|8 pages


Labour productive of surplus – Condillac 1

chapter IV|8 pages

Adam Smith

The struggle against rent 1

chapter V|10 pages

Supporters of Smith on unproductive labour

chapter VIII|9 pages

The deadlock of unproductive consumption

chapter IX|11 pages

Underconsumption and crises

chapter X|10 pages

Technical progress

chapter XII|14 pages

Investment in human capital

chapter XIII|11 pages

Overproduction versus underconsumption

chapter XIV|10 pages

Fall and revival of Smith’s distinction

chapter XVI|11 pages

Productiveness of public expenditures

chapter XVIII|14 pages

New middle classes and human capital

chapter XX|9 pages


The growth of unproductive labour 1

chapter XXI|8 pages

The future of productive labour