Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Chomsky" Debate Concludes

There has been an exchange of posts between David Ruccio and myself on Chomsky’s assessment of the division of labour and its consequences. Chomsky, in my view, misread the references to the negative affects of the division of labour in Book V, seeing Smith’s comments on them as somehow so negative that the state had to intervene to prevent the awful ignorance arriving from them to justify Smith’s alleged call to end the further rounds of the division of labour.

In fact, Smith used the awful ignorance of the uneducated labouring poor as a rallying call for the spread of the long established practice of the Scottish ‘little schools’ to England. These locally-funded (by charitable donations, local Churches, and small affordable charges) one or two-roomed small buildings provided elementary schooling in ‘reading, writing, and account' (arithmetic) to all young boys in every parish, from 6 years old.

Parents often sent such children to work for a few pennies to add to their miserable living standards. In England, mainly, the absence of any education for the poor provided the ignorant adult labour Smith discussed in his alleged ‘critique’ of the effects of the division of labour. It was the failings of the cause of ignorance and its risks to public order, and not the division of labour that Smith warned about in Wealth Of Nations (WN Book V.i.f.48-61: 781-88).

David Ruccio, the author of the original post on his Anti-cap Blog (HERE) , has responded positively to my criticism of Chomsky’s views (in the following exchange (HERE):

My apologies, Gavin, if I attributed to you political views you do not hold. I was merely responding to our previous exchange on the topic of Adam Smith.

I do think you underestimate the effects of the division of labor—in Smith’s writings and in general. Smith did, in my view, understand the stultifying effects on workers of the division of labor in capitalist factories. But, as you correctly note, he wasn’t willing to give up the division of labor, since it was key to the growth in the productivity of labor and, thus, in the wealth of nations. So, he proposed something else—public education—as an attempt to ameliorate the negative effects of the division of labor.

Now, we don’t even make that pretense: education (whether public or private) should be vocational education, in order to train more skilled workers for the existing division of labor. We have, indeed, backtracked from the enlightened views of Smith

My response:
I am glad we have sorted that out. Many people misread Smith on the division of labour and the education of future labourers. Britain did not sort the gap in education until the 1870 education act.

But Scotland also developed a different approach to the rest of the UK in developing the first ‘mechanics and arts’ schools movement, independent of government, for example, in my own former institution which started in 1821 as a one such school, which eventually become Heriot-Watt College in the late 19th century, and Heriot-Watt University University in 1967.
These schools trained mechanics, tradesmen and technicians in maths, physics, chemistry engineering and such like, part-time and evenings in Chamber Street, opposite the University of Edinburgh’s grand main buildings, with many of the tutors and professors of the University conducting the classes. It took sometime before England followed Scotland’s lead.

This is what I mean by the power of ‘bottom up’ innovation over many of the ‘top down’ attempts to impose ‘one-size’ fits all.

[I would add that I believe the appropriate summary of Adam Smith’s stance of the great divide between competitive markets and politically-directed States is: ‘markets where possible and states where necessary’, bearing in mind that markets are not always possible and states are not always necessary, as Smith showed in Wealth Of Nations.]



Blogger Stephan said...

This is very cool! I really like this approach to reach out and have a decent discussion beside coming from very different economic quarters. Chapeau!

PS: The link "in the following exchange" HERE does not work.

9:04 pm  

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