What is a Division of Labor? Adam Smith’s Division of LaborJune 26, 2021
In his account of the emergence of market economies, Smith argues that our ability to bargain puts an end to what was once a universal requirement of the economic self-sufficiency of every person, or at least every family.
Thanks to bargaining, it has become possible to concentrate on producing fewer and fewer goods, eventually producing only one good or providing one service, with which we can exchange everything else we want. This process was revolutionized by the invention of money, which eliminated the need for barter. According to Smith, from that time on, only those who could not work had to look into the hands of benefactors. Everyone else comes to the market place to exchange their labor – or the money they earn – for the products of other people’s labor.
The end of our need to procure everything for ourselves has led to the emergence of people with certain abilities (such as a baker or a carpenter), and subsequently what Smith calls a “division of labor” among workers. This is Smith’s term for specialization, meaning that an individual does not pursue only one type of job, but does a part of a job shared by many people.
Smith describes the importance of specialization and how a metal needle makes a radical improvement when it is adapted to the factory system: While one person has difficulty in producing 20 perfect needles, a group of 10 people, each doing a different job, that is, doing the division of labor, for example, one pulling the wire, the other straightening, another by cutting, and another by sharpening the tip, he can make 48,000 needles a day. In this system, each person who does each job separately specializes in his own job.
Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook