- Capitalism and Alternatives -

More 'fascist' utterances from Adam Smith

Posted by: Stoller on December 19, 1999 at 15:01:38:

In Reply to: Adam Smith: 'fascist'? posted by Barry Stoller on December 17, 1999 at 11:42:30:

Adam Smith:

In the progress of the division of labor, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labor, that is, of the great body of people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations, frequently to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments.

The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant a creature as it is possible for a human creature to become...

His dexterity at his own particular trade seems, in this manner, to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues.

But in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the laboring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.(1)

On this note, let us return to Darcy Carter's idiotic post.

Darcy says: '[I]t is better to serve fries than to work in a coal mine for 20 hours a day (just about), so Adam Smith's vision in this respect is becoming increasingly out of date.'

Whether mining coal or making french fries has NOTHING to do with Smith's observation.

The point he was making was that to limit a person to ONE OR TWO 'very simple operations' was to ROB THEM of their human sentience.

And that observation is MORE PERTINENT in today's 'service economy' than EVER.

With that cleared up, let us consider another of Darby's less-than-sagacious observations: 'As for job sharing, the sad truth is that most people are incapable of doing jobs that would be described as skilled or professional.'

Such an elitist view (smelling strongly of biological determinism) Smith explicitly REFUTES:

The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause as the effect of the division of labor.

The difference between most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature as from habit, custom, and education. When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were perhaps very much alike, and neither their parents nor play-fellows could perceive any remarkable difference.

About that age, or soon after, they come to employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance.(2)

Or, as I put it (again and again): Until we educate EVERYONE, we'll NEVER KNOW who is capable of WHAT.


1. Smith, The Wealth of Nations [1776], Modern Library Edition, pp. 734-5, emphasis added.

2. Ibid., pp. 15-16, emphasis added.


Gee---feel free to jump in here with some more graphs from Utah...

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