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Adam Smith and Karl Marx: The Division of Labor

Adam Smith and Karl Marx: The Division of Labor

Adam Smith and Karl Marx, despite the radical difference of their opinions on capitalism, were two of the greatest economic analysts of their eras. In general, Smith (1974) takes the position that the division of labor that occurred concomitantly with the Industrial Revolution has the effect of increasing wealth for a society as a whole and expanding the opportunities for meaningful employment for workers. Marx (2002), on the other hand, argues that the evolution of modern industry and the division of labor subjects workers to oppressive, dehumanizing working conditions while concentrating wealth in the hands of a few. This brief analysis will assess each argument. While Marx (2002) makes a valid point regarding the impact of capitalism and industrialism on workers, it is Smith's (1974) discussion of the division of labor that is most convincing.

Smith (1974, p. 109) opens his discussion by stating that "the greatest improvements in the productive powers of laborĂ  seem to have been the effects of the division of labor." In the great manufacturing centers that were developed during the early years of the Industrial Revolution, Smith (1974, p. 109) saw opportunities for employment of "so great a number of workmen that it is impossible to collect them all into the same workhouse." Industrialization, said Smith (1974, p. 112), fostered a "great increase of the quantity of work which, in consequence of the division of labor, the same number of people are capable of performing."

In essence, Smith (1974) took the position that dividing a single production task into logical segments and training workers to complete each segment, was a time-saving device that made higher levels of productivity possible. Similarly, improvements in machinery not only created new jobs requiring better skilled workers, but also improved productivity and wages. The ultimate effect, said...

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Adam Smith and Karl Marx: The Division of Labor. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 01:18, May 29, 2023, from