CIRHR Professor Padraic X. Scanlan hosted a conversation with CIRHR Professor Dionne Pohler and Christopher M. Florio (Department of History, Hollins University) as part of the Centre for Ethics' The Ethics of COVID, an interdisciplinary series of online events featuring short video takes on the ethical dimensions of the COVID crisis. This installment was cosponsored by the CIRHR.
Abstract: In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments across the world have experimented with schemes to prevent layoffs and encourage workers to stay home by paying some, or all, of their wages. In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the ruptures of industrialisation – automation, downward pressure on wages, rapid urbanisation – provoked some governments to top up labourers’ wages to a minimum. However, by the 1830s, most of these programs had been swept away by the rise of liberalism and laissez-faire capitalism. To some critics, wage subsidies seemed to violate the putatively natural laws of the market. To others, they seemed to present a moral hazard: why would labourers continue to work if they did not need wages to survive? The pandemic, and government responses to it, have reignited these foundational debates about the purpose of wages, the nature of the labour market, and the role of governments in political economy.