- Capitalism and Alternatives -

You're not the only one

Posted by: Barry Stoller on February 27, 19100 at 00:42:19:

In Reply to: Another great man whose book I haven't read. posted by Frenchy on February 26, 19100 at 12:57:53:

: When you say 'monopoly', are you including governments powerful enough to engage in social engineering?

There is a very interesting passage in The Wealth of Nations about the division of labor:

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.

The torpor of his mind renders him, not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgement concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging; and unless very particular pains heve been taken to render him otherwise, he is equally incapable of defending his country in war.

The uniformity of his stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind, and makes him regard with abhorrence the irregular, uncertain, and adventurous life of a soldier. It corrupts even the activity of his body, and renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and persverance, in any employment than that to which he has been bred. 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)

Concerned that a working populace rendered stupid by the division of labor (both social and detail ), and therefore incapable of defending their country in time of danger, Smith mused that government ought to step in---into the workforce itself---to 'prevent' the division of labor from de-skilling the workers.

What do you think the capitalists today would make of such an idea?

You're not the only dude unacquainted with Smith...



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

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