Friday, September 26, 2008

Adam Smith: An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations

I never doubt the huge effects of division of labor. Smith claimed it as “the greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour.” Since Smith, modern economists tend to rank efficiency and quantity on top of everything, and division of labor successfully achieves that goal. Simultaneously, it changed the role of a modern person. Those encyclopedic kinds of people like Leonardo da Vinci become more and more impossible, because “each individual becomes more expert in his own peculiar branch, more work is done upon the whole, and the quantity of science is considerably increased by it.”

It seems perfect, but as Marx pointed out, division of labor is also the cause of human alienation. Everyone becomes a part of the process, no longer in charge of the whole thing. Such as in an assembly line, each worker is assigned to do a certain job without knowing what others do before and after him. It reminds me of Charlie Chaplin’s movie “Modern Times,” in which nonstop screwing nuts made him mental breakdown. Everyone seems to be more independent than ever before, as she just needs to care her own work, but at the same time, everyone is also forced to be more dependent on each other, because each part needs to cooperate together to make the machine work.

As for the reason why there occurred the division of labor, Smith provided some insights. “It is not from the benevolence… but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love.” Thus the relationship between each person looks mean and cold, but true in reality: “Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want.”

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