Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Some Ideas about the Division of Labor

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As an economist, Adam Smith is such a distinguished figure represented the classical school that his theories are either fiercely debated or enthusiastically applauded. His 00-pages economic writing An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations includes most of his famous and influential economic thoughts. Among them, I believe, the division of labor has its undoubtedly inviolable position; otherwise, he would not put it forward in the first chapter.

Why he began his book with that topic? That¡¯s because the Wealth of Nations lies in the concept of economic growth, and growth is just rooted in the increasing division of labor. This idea is related primarily to the specialization of the labor force, especially the breaking down of large jobs into many tiny components.

Does it mean the division of labor is the most significant aspect of economic life? Adam Smith believed so, and so do many of us. Firstly because as each worker become an expert in one isolated area, the efficiency will be increasing, for workers do not have to switch tasks during the day, which further saves time and money. Secondly, division of labor could get Adam Smith¡¯s other economic thoughts together and reasonable related. The followed chain could explain it if economic growth depends on the division of labor, and if the degree of division of labor depends on the extent of the market, it follows that the continuation of economic growth requires an ever widening market, which is one of the main reasons why Adam Smith favored free trade. So since the division of labor is the carrier of dynamic change, Adam Smith naturally relates the progress of society to the extent which division of labor has progressed.

But here comes a controversy. Adam Smith provided a masterful analysis of the gains from specialization, and he also referred to the deleterious effects of the division of labor upon the work force. At the beginning of his great book he pointed, ¡°Invention is the sole product of worker¡¯s intelligence. But later, Adam Smith said that workers become increasingly ¡°stupid and ignorant¡± as a result of division of labor. How can we explain it?

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We know that those deleterious effects upon work force, which come from division of labor, constitute a major source of inspiration for some socialist critique of capital institution, such as Marx. Shall we say that Adam Smith was confused with himself? Did he involve in a contradiction, or was he inadequate or misleading on several important points?

In order to solve this contradiction, we need first to enlarge the scope of our discussion by recognizing that Adam Smith looks upon inventive activity as a process, which has several dimensions. (He once said concentration upon a single job makes it easier to think of improvement. It must be the workers, the users of tools, who thought of ways to make their work easier. And improvement of machine as well as advanced technology could inevitably help increasing economic growth.)

Increasing division of labor encourages invention in a variety of ways, said Adam Smith. By narrowing down the range, the worker is enabled to lavish greater care as well as curiosity upon his work. Another important aspect of Adam Smith¡¯s view of inventive activity is motivation, because it is the motivation could harmonize private interest with social interest. A person, who can acquire no property, can have no other interest but to eat as much, and to labor as little as possible. The work fore mentioned in his book is not always like that, that¡¯s why we could gain from specialization.

When it comes to the deleterious effects, Adam Smith never refused to talk about them. He pointed out only in the event that forcing individuals to perform tedious and repetitious tasks would lead to such an ignorant, dissatisfied work force. For this reason he advanced the revolutionary belief that government had an obligation to provide education to workers. This sprung from the hope that education could combat the deleterious effects of factory life.

Here comes a question does the education really work? The answer is still ambiguous. To some extent, it seems quite reasonable. The solution of this social consequence of economic progress through the division of labor, is the extension of education, in particular aesthetic education, which would regenerate not only the human personality but also the cohesion and harmony of society.

At the present time, we can see that the education process itself has been absorbed into the division of labor too. Whether the public education could remedy those deleterious effects is still argued.

Division is not always a good idea. Take education as an example, the economics has been divided into micro- and macro-, and even monetary economics, international economics, industry economics and development economics, which indicates a further trend in this process. Although it is quite right that everything cannot be taught at once, and subdivision is useful in the teaching and learning process (as well as working process), the disadvantages of this development also exist but are less frequently mentioned. The subdivision of the subject into some relatively small subject has had some disastrous consequence, more costs, more time and more energy involved.

Adam Smith praised public education especially carried out by government. Is it quite reasonable? The cost for public education for so many people is hard to calculate and little government could have the determination to perform such a rough task with even no immediate benefits. So it is quite understandable that why socialist picked this point out to fly upon the capitalist institution.

In any case, division of labor implies assigning each worker to the job that suits him best, which to some extent attaches importance to human dignity. The productive labor could fulfill two important requirements. First, it must ¡°lead to the production of tangible objects.¡± Second, labor must ¡°create a surplus¡± which can be reinvested into production. In a word, division of labor quite closely related with economic growth is a lot by Adam Smith and so do many of us.

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