The wages fund doctrine: a Lakatosian analysis

Vint, John (1992). The wages fund doctrine: a Lakatosian analysis. PhD thesis The Open University.



For almost a century the wages fund doctrine existed as an important part of Classical economic thought. It formed the theoretical basis of the Classical analysis of the labour market, and was employed by political economists and popularizers of political economy when discussing the role of trades unions, the impact of machinery, the effect of the Poor Laws and other policy issues.

This thesis applies the ideas of Imre Lakatos to the history of the wages fund doctrine in order to analyze and appraise its development and decline. The theoretical framework employed is based on Lakatos' methodology of scientific research programmes and the methodology of historiographical research programmes. Various elements of this framework are then applied to the history of the wages fund doctrine. It is argued that the hard core of the wages fund research programme emerged gradually in the work of the early Classical writers and was fully formed by the 1820s. A major counterexample to the programme — the 'monster' of money wages — is analyzed using the concepts developed by Lakatos in his Proofs and Refutations [1976].

It is argued that the programme made theoretical progress at the hands of Ricardo, Senior and Mill but that this progress halted in the 1850s. The 1860s saw a major debate concerning the wages fund doctrine prompted the events of that decade, and this debate is analyzed in detail using the tools and concepts of the Lakatosian framework. The thesis rationally reconstructs the wages fund doctrine and the recantataion debate as 'scientific' and provides evidence that the methodology of historiographical research programmes continues to make theoretical progress.

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