The division of labor

Topics: Karl Marx, Adam Smith, Capitalism Pages: 5 (1563 words) Published: November 10, 2014

Critique of “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”

The excerpt of Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations states that “The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labor, and the greater part of the skill dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labor” (Smith, Book1, Chapter 1, Of the Division of Labor). The division of labor allows a market, state, countries and societies to undergo economic improvement. Adam Smith is correct to say that The Division of Labor is how countries become rich, but the division of labor has some of its own problems too.

The division of labor is explained by Smith as, “First, the improvement of the dexterity of the workman necessarily increases the quantity of the work he can perform; the division of labour, by reducing every man's business to some one simple operation, and by making this operation the sole employment of his life, necessarily increased very much dexterity of the workman” “Secondly, the advantage which is gained by saving the time commonly lost in passing from one sort of work to another is much greater than we should at first view be apt to imagine it” “Thirdly and lastly, everybody must be sensible how much labor is facilitated and abridged by the application of proper machinery” (smith, 4). The main argument is that as long as a worker is focused on just doing one job, he will be skilled and efficient. Then once he becomes skilled and efficient at his job, he will become inclined to develop a machine to do the job for him. Such sequence of events allows productions to sky rocket and improve the country's economy. A burst in the economy means the industrialization of cities and the industrialization of cities is what makes a country rich.

When a state is industrialized, certain skills are no longer required by the workers. For example, before the manufacturing of chairs, once a carpenter buys his block of wood to work with, he had to saw it, shape it and piece it together all by himself. But with industrialization, the steps the carpenter took to create the chair by himself is now done by a few people, each person in charge of a different step. The first person would only need to get the wood and hand it to the second person. Then the second worker would saw it then hand it to the third worker. The third worker will then shape the pieces for the chair and hand it to the fourth worker to finish building the chair. This division of labor allowed the chair to be made efficiently and swiftly but it also meant that each worker in charge of a step to create the chair does not know how to make one on their own. They did not develop the skills of completing the chair but instead only knows how to do one simple task. This diminishes the value of the worker because he only knows one skill in building a chair, whereas the carpenter knows several different skills to build a chair.

Karl Marx, the father of communism, disagreed with the outcome of the division of labor. Although the division of labor increases the wealth of country, it does not necessarily mean the increase of wealth for individuals. Marx pointed out “The value of a commodity is equal to its cost of production. But what is the cost of production of 'labor'?” (Marx, 6). Unlike the carpenter whose labor comes from the chair he made, the labor of each of the workers in the example of chair making does not have a definite number. It is determined by the owner of the manufacturing company. In order to maximize his own profits, the owner of the manufacturing company seeks to pay as little wage as possible to the workers. The workers will not be motivated to work since they are barely working to survive and they are not rewarded with the fruits of their labors. Marx stated “And this life-activity, therefore, is but a means of securing his own existence. He works...


Bibliography: Cohon, Adam. 2014. International relations 217. Lecture 9/8-10/6. University of Rochester
Marx, Karl. Wage-labor and capital. Socialist Labor Party of America, 2000
List, Friedrich. The National System of Political Economy. The Public Domain, 1841.
Friedman. Capitalism and Freedom. The Public domain,
Smith, Adam. Wealth of Nations Excerpts. The Public Domain, 1776
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