120 Int'l Lab. Rev. 563 (1981)
The Notion of Voluntary Unemployment

handle is hein.journals/intlr120 and id is 577 raw text is: International Labour Review, Vol. 120, No. 5, September-October 1981

The notion of voluntary unemployment
Guy STANDING*
1. Introduction
The concept of unemployment is hard to define, partly because it
combines a condition (being without employment), a need (for work), an
attitude (desire for work), and an activity (searching for work). Some
question the applicability of the term if used to describe the position of
someone satisfying the first criterion without satisfying one or more of the
others. Hence the claim that many of the unemployed, in both industri-
alised and low-income countries, are in fact voluntarily unemployed. If so,
the associated social distress would be overstated, and unemployment
could be downgraded as a policy concern.
However, it is difficult to distinguish, conceptually and empirically,
between voluntary and involuntary unemployment. This article
considers common procedures used in making that distinction, the
intention being to identify and question the assumptions involved in the
notion of voluntary unemployment.
2. Macro-economic notions of voluntary unemployment
Before considering the main behavioural elements in the concept, it is
worth noting the two most influential analytical approaches to the issue.
The first is associated with Keynes, for whom voluntary unemployment
was due to the refusal or inability of a unit of labour ... to accept a reward
corresponding to the value of the product attributable to its marginal
productivity. For Keynes the main issue was involuntary unemployment,
which he defined in a convoluted manner:
Men are involuntarily unemployed if, in the event of a small rise in the price of
wage goods relatively to the money wage, both the aggregate supply of labour
willing to work for the current money wage and the aggregate demand for it at that
wage would be greater than the existing volume of employment.
He excluded from involuntary unemployment those between jobs
and those temporarily or seasonally without work.
*International Labour Office.

Copyright  International Labour Organisation 1981

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