Self, Culture and Society
November 13, 2013
Smith on Human Nature:
• “[The Division of Labour] is the necessary, though very slow and gradual consequence of a certain
propensity in human nature… the propensity to truck, barter and exchange one thing for another”
• The ‘opulence’ of a “civilized country” is only possible due to the “assistance and cooperation of many
thousands” of workers
• How do we get selfinterested individuals to cooperate? “It is not from the benevolence of the butcher,
the brewer or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard for their own self interest”.
▯Governments have interfered with economic life, they have established corporations as monopolies and they
have interfered with the natural forces of the market. Smith is arguing that these kinds of economic policies are
the wrong types of economic policies because the market regulates itself. Smith claims that “interfering” with
markets is interfering with human nature.
▯The division of labour implies “specialization”.
The Division of Labour:
• Pin Factory Illustration (20 pins vs. 48,000!)
• The more extensive the division of labour, the more productive labour is.
• Extension of division of labour driven by ‘large wants’ (limited by ‘small wants’) – this presupposes the
existence of markets in which surplus is exchanged (‘spinners and weavers’)
▯depends on the size of the market
• Specialization the mark of “improved society”: “the labour … which is necessary to produce any one
complete manufacture is almost always divided among a great number of hands”
• How does specialization improve productivity?
▯Improves dexterity of worker, efficiency of motion, introduction of machinery
• How do innovations arise?
▯From the workers themselves (boy on a fireengine)
▯From the makers of machines (a particular trade)
▯From philosophers (creative thinkers!)
• Resulting ‘opulence’ “extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people”
Social Consequences of Division of Labour:
• Specialization and the Market:
• “by reducing every man’s business to some one simple operation, and by making this operation the sole
employment of his life…” (pp. 112113).
▯Cogs in a machine? Compare Marx on “alienation’, the deskilling of labour and increased competition
▯From nurturing many talents to specializing in the one that will fetch the highest price in the market
▯Extreme dependence on the labour of others, but in a highly depersonalized, antisocial way.
Karl Marx (18181883)
• Philosopher, radical democrat and political economist
• Intellectual influences: German philosophy, French Political Radicalism and English Political Economy • Spent most of life getting exiled, couldn’t hold down a steady good paying job
• Early collaborating with Frederick Engels (182095), whose Condition of the Working Class in England
(1844) profoundly influenced Marx.
• With Engels, wrote “the communist manifesto (1848) during a period of great social and political unrest.
Marx’s Theory of Capitalism:
• Smith correctly understood the valuecreating role of labour and how the division of labour increases the
productivity of the forces of production (FP) of society
• Marx: Smith’s view of the Division of Labour abstracts from the class structure of society – the
relations of production (RP)
• Marx is not only interested in HOW ‘goods’ are produced, but also the political, legal and ideological
institutional arrangements needed to maintain this economic structure: the ways in which FP + RP