Division of Labor in America
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.
Smith, Adam. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Ed. Laurence Dickey. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993. Print.
What is your opinion on the increased division of labor?
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