REPLY TO YESTERDAY'S COMMENT ON SMITH AND THE DIVISION OF LABOUR
Thank you for your observation/assertion which you do not expand upon. The division of labour has been a phenomenon of human nature since homo sapiens emrged as a distict variant of the Homo nascient species a geat many millennia ago. In all that time until Homo Sapiens Sapiens, the characteristics of small proto-groups were basic. Homo sapiens distinctly developed co-operation between the natural talents of their bands which eventually evolved into societies (what Edward O. Wilson (2012) calls ‘Eusociality’ in “The Social Conquest of the Earth”, Norton).
The division of labour according to the individual talents manifested in food gathering and primitive hunting was always present - some can run faster or for longer durations and find their way back to the group, some can carry more, throw projectiles or stones, and track better etc., than others, through all the skills enjoyed by both male and females in the groups, and some are better of course as nurses and nurturers of children. Amost total ignorance of the world was a common feature except in the acculation of knowledge about their survival needs.
In time, as humans passed through the hunting and gathering stages, and on into what became shepherding and primitive farming, knowledge of work labour and culture developed and were retained and societies became more complex. Some - the majority - of human societies stayed in their workable societies for hundreds of millennia (until later), a few remain as they were.
Again, as Smith discusses in his ‘History of Astronomy’ (1744-c.58) knowledge was largely a pusillanimous superstition of the natural world, with invisible entities at work. But signs of the gradual expansion of knowledge appeared - in the Classical world - which evolved separate from work, including thinking about politics. Early market forms from c.800 BC qualitatively altered the growth of knowledge and the nature of the division of labour as both fed off each other. Ignorance still dominated the mass of human societies.
By the time Smith was writing Moral Sentiments and Wealth Of Nations, a distinct minority of the population in Britain were earning their living from working in market-oriented businesses rather than in agriculture in the traditional labouring manner throughout the various seasons. These non-agricultural labouring skill-sets of a segment of the population grew proportionally throughout the decades that followed as the market-oriented non-agricultural productive sector grew, also fed by inward migration from the dominant and largely agricultural sector from Ireland and the Highlands of Scotland.
Divisions of labour in the non-agricultureal sector intensified as innovation and techniques of the organisation of work processes intensified and spread from slow secular economic growth in the UK. These trends also created a demand for the supervision of processes and co-ordinating roles, which also drove the need for the education of labouring personnel from among the largely ignorant lmajority abouring segments of the population.
A large social class, including labourers, were largely fairly uneducated in the basic skills of production of large volumes of output, subject to regular changes in techniques, supervision and processes. Moreover, the infusion of economic migrants and new demands for work roles for the expanding consumer economy, led to some observeable social tensions and general labour unrest.
Adam Smith observed this period closely and concluded that some attention must be given to ameliorating the tensions exhibited in these circumstances.
Gene Callahan opines that Adam Smith saw these “downsides as the division of labour, while offering education as means to treat the disease”.
Kennedy argues that Adam Smith, an experienced educator - three years a student at Glasgow and six years at Oxford - and sixteen years as a lecturer (Edinburgh for three years, in a private initiative, and thirteen years a professor at Glasgow). He was passionately committed to the general compulsory education of all male children from 6 years of age to at least 8 years of age and to 14 years of age where possible, paid for from charitable donations and some public finance, as well as, where practicable for parental contributions, on the long-standing Scottish model.
Placed in the context of ‘Wealth Of Nations’ (1776), Smith’s focus in WN Book V, on the education of youths, his primary concern was to convince the middle and upper class - the likely readers of his two volumes- and the government to endorse and adopt the Scottish model of ‘Little Schools’ throughout the whole of the United Kingdom, specifically in England as the largest member country of UK. For this purpose the somewhat dramatic illustration he used of the dangers of social unrest from illiterate, ignorant, and emotional susceptibilities of such uneducated illiterate people to the “enthusiasm” and “superstition” of ignorant agitators who would more easily persuade ignorant men. For Smith it was a ‘no-brainer’ solution and this chapter should be read that way.
To assert that Smith’s language in this chapter was about the “downside of the division of labour” is to misread him (a la Chomsky). Smith was a pragmatist, not an ideologue. He had already examined a serial fault in agriculture over previous centuries in its consquential social failing in the fragile living standards and absolute dependency of field labourers, but he softened condemnation of their treatment by their overlords with the observation that the tyranical behaviours arising from the unequal division of the land led, eventually to the “propagation of the species”. Little comfort for them, of which they remained oblivious!
To suggest Smith was concerned above all about the division of labour going “too far”, etc., and that “quite obviously” he was “pointing out a downside to the division of labor, while offering education as a means to treat the disease”, is frankly astonishing. There never was any prospect of the “division of labour” being stopped - it had begun millennia ago and would continue indefinitely into the future, “downsides” and all. Pragmatically nothing could be done about it. But much could be done about education of the young, and Smith’s spur to do so, was the warn of the specific threat of the social disorders by leaving uneducated and ignorant boys to the blandishments of agitators.
Gene may feel on the side of agitators, as is his right in modern society, and may instinctively feel sympathy for them, but Smith was addressing then while Gene may be concerned with now. However, with growing mass education, rising output provided by the possibilities of wider and deeper divisions of labour that enable modern societies to be incomparably richer in production and consumption of goods and services for the most educated population throughout all history, the level of knowledge available to all today’s agitators is incomparably more literate and sophisticated than ever before. Those agitators who trade in violence to enforce their ignorance must now resort to doctrines of violence to enforce compliance because the education revolutions of the past three-hundred years remain a major barrier to the politics - and religions - of ignorance.
Adam Smith’s concerns were well directed at what mattered for liberating social change - education, education, and education - funded by unlimited divisions of labour across the globe.