- Capitalism and Alternatives -

Thanks for the predictable procapitalist platitudes

Posted by: Barry Stoller on January 18, 19100 at 10:20:30:

In Reply to: To witness my consumption of the pie posted by Darcy Carter on January 17, 19100 at 15:27:56:

Picking up from Darcy's post...

: Looking at the actual evidence, it seems clear that the kind of manual jobs that Smith was referring to simply no longer exist to any great extent in a the developed world. Even in McDonalds (a less than thrilling job admittedly - I lasted 2 days) one is not reduced to "one or two very simple operations." You can serve customers, fry burgers, clean, pack fries etc. That is more than 1 or 2. I also think that the social interaction, on however base a level, that is involved in the service industry is something that Smith could not have considered when he was talking about the stultifying affects of labour. Furthermore, although these sorts of jobs are the worst that current western society has to offer and the vast majority of people do something more interesting.

What a mess of implications that one paragraph holds!

First off, let's get division of labor straight. There's two types: the social division of labor and the division of labor in manufacture. The first divides everyone's working activity into single professions (cook, lawyer, porter, philosopher); the second divides single jobs into atomized tasks for the sake of faster productivity. The quotes I put forth (from Smith) addressed both types of division of labor.

On the social division of labor Smith wrote:

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.

Defend the social division of labor if you wish, Darcy; just don't invoke Smith's name to back you up. On the topic, he is as behavioristic as J.B. Watson.

On the division of labor in manufacture, Smith wrote:

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.

Your qualification that working at McDonalds isn’t 'really' what Smith meant is bogus.

'A few simple operations'---emphasis on SIMPLE, not the precise amount. Seriously, if a person does 100 simple operations, by Smith's analysis, a person still has been deformed as a human. Your inability to work at McDonalds only proves his---and my---point.

Now, what else did you say?

: I also think that the social interaction, on however base a level, that is involved in the service industry is something that Smith could not have considered when he was talking about the stultifying affects of labour.

Are you suggesting that servicing people is in some way more skilled work? More varied? More satisfying?

Elitist bunk.

: Furthermore, although these sorts of jobs are the worst that current western society has to offer and the vast majority of people do something more interesting.

Are you sure?

Again (using U.S. data): 75% of American jobs require no education above a high school level (Business Week, 1 September 1997, p. 67). Top growth occupations: cashiers, janitors, salespeople, and waiters (New York Times, 31 August 1997, sec. 4, p. 9).

And what do YOU have to back up your claims that the 'vast majority of people' have 'more interesting' jobs?

: There is also universal education at a level Smith would probably have considered possible only in a Eutopia.

The 'universal education' you speak of is only primary education (public high school). Would Smith be impressed by that? The invention of a mechanized deep fryer wasn't possible in 1776, neither were motor vehicles. But is that to infer---as you seem to---that deep frying potato slices or driving a delivery truck is such an 'advancement' since Smith's time that he would negate his previous words regarding both the social and detail division of labor? Quite a speculation, there, Darcy!

: As far as I remember, [Smith] wasn't a biologist, and knowledge of genetics would seem to render any contemporary comment on the nature / nurture debate obsolete in any event.

Well, if you want to abandon Smith now, fine. But what do YOU have to offer in the way of supporting the social division of labor?

: A contrary view would suggest that I could have discovered relativity, painted the Mona Lisa or broke the 100m world record - it was merely timing and environment that prevented my great achievements. This goes against all common sense and self-knowledge.

Funny how you procapitalists always seem to fall back on science, art and athletics to defend your position. Scientists are so few that the United States Statistical Abstract doesn't even list them. Ditto athletes. Only 3% of the American population are 'entertainers'---which includes such jobs as ushers, strippers, and balloon sculptors at children's birthday parties (Statistical Abstract of the United States 1997, table 672, p. 432).

Biological determinism, your paltry defense of the social division of labor, fails to support itself BECAUSE HIGHER EDUCATION IS RATIONED. As I said before: only when everyone in society has a chance to educate themselves will we know who’s capable of what.

You throw out some highly exceptional examples of skill (theorizing, painting, running) and expect that biological determinism has proved its case. If that was so, smart people wouldn't need to go to college at all, would they? According to a biologically determined point of view, only dumb people need to receive education; the smart people can take care of themselves. Theorizing, painting and running, indeed---if only theorizing, painting, and running were the requisites for capitalist success!

But you omit the real requisite for capitalist success: wage-laborers.

You procapitalists like science, art, and athletics because those activities seem to negate the labor theory of value. All capitalists, however, need more than 'exceptional natural' talent. They need people who own nothing but their labor-power which they must sell piece-meal to those who own (and monopolize) the means of production. Would the Beatles have made a single record without factory workers in pressing plants and cashiers in retail shops?

: Smith's condemantion of inheritance not only came at a time when genetics were unknown, but in a society where the social order depended on people being fixed in a particular strata of society for their entire lives...

Yes, Smith wanted feudal absolutism (and with it its fixed class divisions) abolished in favor in capitalism. But his capitalism was based on individual private property (of the means of production), which we NOW knows evolves into its negation, monopolistic private property (of the means of production). One capitalist kills many (the internal logic of capital centralization). What we now have is the possibility of class ascension 'open to all'---but as a lottery in which only a minority achieves class ascension. It's not fixed, as feudal relations were, but it is still limited to minorities.

I mean, if EVERYONE was a capitalist (like Smith's utopian petty-proprietor vision supposed---and he ignored women and slaves to achieve it), there couldn't BE capitalism (as we know it today). NO wage-laborers, no commodity.

So, thanks for the predictable procapitalist platitudes, Darcy, but no thanks.

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