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Smith's Division of Labor

In the late 18th century, right before the start of the Industrial Revolution, Adam Smith penned An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, an economic guideline giving insight to the successes and the origins of moneyed nations. Its economic acumen and sagacity allowed businessmen and entrepreneurs to rake in profits for their businesses. Less than one hundred years later, Karl Marx, the eternal communist, authored the Communist Manifesto reversing the capitalistic doctrines in countries throughout Europe and abroad. Each thinker took a differing view on the role of individuals in the workforce, the divisions of labor, and the effect it would produce on the individual and subsequently, society.

According to Smith, wealth is determined by efficiency and efficiency is based on the division of labor. It is not the quantity of workers that yields this “abundance of supply,” but on the contrary the quality, the efficacy, of the workers and labor that will create the wealth of nations or the surplus of goods produced that are not used up by a nation. Smith contends it would be difficult for a person to make the same, or even close to the same amount of products, as workers who specialize in carrying out certain and often repetitive tasks. Using the production of pins as an example, Smith illustrates that an individual pin-maker could make no more than twenty pins a day. On the other hand, by implementing divisions of labor, eighteen distinct operations would be created each peculiar to a different task in creating the pin, resulting in an individual output maximized at four-thousand eight hundred pins. Their “education” in dealing with their own peculiar tasks, Smith seems to say, maximizes efficiency. “The division of labor” Smith says, “occasions in every art, a proportionable increase in the productive powers of labor.”

The division of labor owes itself to 3 things, to wit, the increase dexterity of each worker, to the saving of time, and the invention of machines which require these divisions, as people specialize in overseeing certain machines. This division of labor also stems from human nature in that people have different skills sets and levels. Specificity in the tasks of a worker allows for the worker to be more apt at doing that certain task flawlessly. Thus, workers who become specialized become more dexterous, more efficient and knowledgeable -with minimal error and missteps- at fulfilling their role in the divisions of a workforce. The wealth of knowledge regarding specific tasks and subjects also increases as a result of this specificity in labor, leading to breakthroughs and more innovations in production.

What Karl Marx has to say about it:

Taking a steadfast anti-capitalist stance, Karl Marx saw capitalism as the destined downfall of the proletariat. Marx casts his aspersions on the divisions of labor for alienating the worker from the production. The alienation occurs as each worker is responsible for another task -one for hammering the heads of the pins or another for painting the pins- the worker is separated from the final product. What is more, the obsequious worker is no more than a commodity, in that the worker becomes objectified like a cog in the wheel of a machine. The alienation from the product has a dehumanizing effect, as does the process of working. Workers in the long-run become marginalized and subject to the “vicissitudes of competition” for purposes of efficiency and wealth. Writing of the deteriorating condition of specialized workers Marx declares “Nay, more, in proportion as the use of machinery and division of labor increases, in the same proportion the burden of toil also increases, whether by prolongation of working hours, by increase of the work exacted in a given time, or by increased speed of the machinery” (Santoni 351).

Marx takes issue also with the worker’s estrangement from the natural order of things. The worker becomes increasingly estranged from the product, self, other men as well as the capitalists. The upshot of a specialized -and essentially compartmentalized- job produces a lifestyle that is marked by monotony, tedium, and ennui. To Marx, this deleterious consequence of capitalism, but more specifically, of the division of labor removes all humanness from the production of goods. Marx, finally would likely agree that there is no joy in self-automation, as individual character and “all charm for the workman” are lost. He writes, “the bourgeoisie has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honored and looked up to with reverent awe,” underscoring how the division of labor has turned intellects, lawyers, and scientists, into paid wage laborers (Santoni 347).

Comparing these two intellects, Smith’s idea for a division of labor is favorable for businesses in creating efficient and cheap products and logical for the same reason, but Marx disagrees with Smith’s scheme not for reasons of efficiency or productivity, but for reasons of humanity. Marx is critically against what he considers “slaves of the bourgeoisie class” who are “enslaved by a machine, by the overlooker and the manufacturer himself” and are packed into a factory like soldiers (Santoni 351). Nevertheless, Marx’s odium of the separation of labor finds itself even in today’s world in direct discord and disagreement with Smith’s ceaseless conviction that the wealth of a nation, as a corollary of the distribution of tasks, in the end benefits all.

Bibliography

Smith, Adam. The Wealth of Nations. London: J.M. Dent, 1910. Print.

Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1967. Print.


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