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What is Labor? Definition and Characteristics of Labor

Introduction to Labor

Now, when we talk about “labor” we’re not referring to how hard you work on your homework, but rather the human effort and work that goes into producing goods and services. So, let’s roll up our sleeves and explore the characteristics of labor and it’s unique nature.

Definitions of Labour

Alfred Marshall defines labor as “the use of body or mind, partly or wholly, with a view to secure an income apart from the pleasure derived from the work.”

Wage labour is the mode of production in which the laborer sells their capacity to work as a commodity. – Karl Marx

Characteristics of Labor


Perishable in Nature: Imagine you have a fresh batch of cookies. If you don’t eat them soon they’ll go stale, right? Similarly, labour is perishable – it has a shelf life. Once the moment for work passes, you can’t store it for later use. It’s like that cookie – once it’s gone it’s gone.

Inseparable from the Labourer: Now, think about who bakes those cookies – a baker! Labour is inseparable from the labourer. It’s the baker’s skill, effort, and time that creates those delightful treats. You can’t separate the work from the person doing it.

Human Effort: Labor is all about human effort – the physical and mental work we put into making things happen. Whether it’s building a house or solving complex equations, it’s the energy and knowledge we invest that counts.

Heterogeneous: Now, imagine a toolbox filled with different tools – a hammer, a screw-driver, a wrench. Each tool has a unique purpose. Similarly, labour is heteronomous. People have a wide range of skills, talents, and abilities which they bring to the table. Just like the toolbox, every worker has their own specialty.

Imperfect Substitute: Have you ever tried replacing one ingredient with another while cooking? It might not always turn out the same, right? Labor is similar – it’s not easily replaceable. Each worker’s contribution is distinct and finding a perfect substitute can be quite challenging.

Not Easily Mobile: Picture this – you have a favourite spot in the park where you love to read. If someone asked you to move to a different spot, you might not enjoy it as much. Labor, too, is not always easily mobile. Workers might be tied to a specific location due to their skills, family, or other commitments.

Supply of Labor is Relatively Inelastic: Now, this might sound a bit complex but let me break it down. The supply of labor doesn’t always change quickly based on things like wages or demand. Unlike some products, where supply can be adjusted swiftly, people’s decision to work is influenced by various factors beyond just money.

Exploring the Nature of Labor: Now that we’ve grasped the characteristics, let’s talk about the unique nature of labor. Think of labor as the heartbeat of an economy – it keeps things moving.

In short, these are the summary of the above points

  1. Attached: Labor is tied to workers, inseparable.
  2. Perishable: Can’t be stored like materials.
  3. Less Mobile: Less movable than capital.
  4. Essential: Needed for production.
  5. Limited Supply: Due to few workers, supply is fixed.
  6. Boost Efficiency: Training improves worker efficiency.
  7. Active Role: Labor’s action vital for production.
  8. Weak Bargaining: Poor workers have low bargaining power.
  9. Categories: Labor classified as skilled, semi-skilled, unskilled.
  10. Diverse: Differs by age, gender, skill, education, experience.


We’ve analysed the labour and its perishable nature, its inseparability from the labourer, the diverse human efforts it encompasses, and its role as an imperfect yet vital component of production. 

Remember, every time you see someone working hard to make something happen, you’re witnessing the magic of labor in action. So, the next time you enjoy a delicious cookie, you’ll know that labor played a significant role in baking that treat.

Remember, labor is what bring the economies forward – it’s the foundation of production and progress. Understanding its characteristics and unique nature helps us appreciate the incredible efforts individuals put into creating the goods and services we rely on every day. 

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