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Division of Labor in America

Updated on October 13, 2014
By John Kay, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain
By John Kay, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain | Source

In his book, Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith describes his ideal economic system, which eventually becomes known as the free market system. His philosophy includes implementing production and business methods that are the most efficient, as well as having minimal regulations. Fewer regulations allow the market to work out its own problems through supply and demand, eventually settling at equilibrium, the point of maximum efficiency. Many of his ideas play out in America’s mostly capitalistic economy today. One of his very important theories, the division of labor, played a huge role in the industrial revolution and is utilized throughout the modern world today.

Smith asserts that one of the most important ways for a society to grow is to divide the work of laborers into specialized roles. He claims that dividing the jobs of workers into small, specific tasks allows them to become experts at that single skill: “The improvement of the dexterity of the workman necessarily increases the quantity of the work he can perform” (Smith 6). By limiting his job to one small focus, a workman can repeat the same process quickly, therefore producing more goods with more accuracy. This theory was implemented during the industrial revolution in America in the form of factories. Machines and humans would work together, each creating or overseeing a small, specific part of production, typically forming assembly lines. To use a very basic example of producing pants, the machines may make fabric, then one person could cut the fabric, the next person may sew on buttons, and the last person could attach a zipper. The fabric cutters would be very good at cutting fabric, and the button sewers would be experts with needles. This process is much more efficient at quickly producing uniform pants than having each person make a separate pair of pants individually. Thus, the industrial revolution was born, and items were mass-produced using new machinery and assembly lines, per Smith’s theories.

However, Smith’s ideas reach past simple manufacturing. In the fast-paced modern world, jobs are becoming more and more specialized. Gone are the days of simply being a doctor; now, one must specialize in a certain field, and even a sub-field. For example, one could be a neurosurgeon, a clinical geneticist, a pediatric hematologist; the list goes on and on into countless specialties. While it is certainly comforting knowing that your heart surgeon has likely studied the heart and your condition extensively and is an expert in his field, limiting knowledge and skills so significantly can lead to some unintended consequences. If your heart issue is somehow linked to an underlying lung problem, someone who mainly studied the heart may not catch the underlying issue because it is outside his area of expertise. In addition, seeing multiple doctors for different parts of the body rather than one comprehensive doctor requires an thorough, detailed communication and collaboration between specialists for which most doctors simply don’t have the time or resources to accomplish. This can leave holes in diagnoses and treatments that would otherwise be problem free had there only been one doctor attending to the patient’s multiple problems. As society continues to move further towards extreme specialization and division of labor, it will be necessary to find a proper balance that keeps the customers in mind, rather than caring only for efficiency.


Works Cited

Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Ed. Laurence Dickey. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993. Print.

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    • ReverieMarie profile image
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      ReverieMarie 4 years ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama

      Thank you for your comment! I believe you are right when you say that intensely specializing and taking broad knowledge away from people makes them easier to manipulate, which is a scary thought. I agree that there are definitely benefits to being well rounded. I am glad you enjoy my hubs, and I hope that you will continue to read more of them!

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      Ausseye 4 years ago

      Hi MarieRevalot: I wonder if Smith had in mind child labour, they become specialists at a very early time in their cycle of life, or low life as it might be. Efficient production leads to supplying the masses as they grow ever bigger, leading to wealth and the cry for more, more and bloody more now!! Well we are in for a mighty shock when the Chinese population become big consumers, will their be enough child labour I wonder???

      Forcing people to specialise also makes them more suited to manipulation, the more you concentrate in a small area the less you know of the general, as you sighted in your doctor, doctor and more doctors example. Ignorance is mostly about not knowing what the other lot are up to, something the Chinese leaders love and would be in favour of, was Adam Smith Chinese?

      In the wilds of nature a specialist would find surviving hard, while an all rounder would have a better chance. Efficiency is not the only goal in life, living is about experiencing all that life has to offer and not being a slave to one ideal, or a slave for that matter. Robots spring to mind when doing the same small thing over and over and over, and look at their quality of life, freedom and romance!!!

      What do we want? The freedom to be an all round human with the potential to experience as much of life as is available……..does not sound like a specialist to me?? However it is a very special aim worthy of a free soul.

      Got to say your hubs are full of very interesting ideas and ideal, make a person want to become a reader. Love your energy!!!