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Week Seven Blog Revision – Theresa

“The division of labour offers us the first example of how, as long as man remains in natural society, that is, as long as a cleavage exists between the particular and the common interest, as long, therefore, as activity is not voluntarily, but naturally, divided, man’s own deed becomes an alien power opposed to him, which enslaves him, instead of being controlled by him.” (160, Marx, The German Ideology)


I chose this quotation because it is key to Marx’s argument against specialization. Marx suggests that job specialization as a result of division of labor leads to people being enslaved by their careers.

I agree that if you specialize in a specific field and become very good at it, people around you (society) will expect you to continue doing that job. You will not be able to do whatever job you feel like doing on any day because somebody else will have specialized at it, and will be better than you are. Because you have to perform work in your specific field of specialization, your job controls your actions and you lose your freedom to do any jobs you want.

Marx’s argument regarding this point assumes several things: first, that people want to do whatever work they feel like doing on any given day, second, that people don’t care about becoming experts, and third, that people are content with having just enough to survive. The fact of the matter is that specialization increase efficiency. As Smith stated, “the division of labour…occasions, in every art, a proportionable increase of the productive powers.” (Smith, Wealth of Nations, Chp 1) If we were to return to a state of unspecialized workers, everyone could create just enough to support their own basic necessities, but not be able to create any surplus. And people love their surplus.

Also, labels are a major part of our identity. “Hi, I’m Theresa, and I’m a college student. I’d like to be a surgeon someday” is more defining than “Hi, I’m Theresa, and I do unspecialized jobs that don’t require any unique training.” Members of our society need to be specialized to have that aspect of their identity.

Overall, I disagree with Marx’s assumptions. There are just too many things that could not be done without specialization. If doctors (I use this label loosely—if there was no specialization, there would be no doctors) also had to tend their potatoes and raise chickens for food, they would not have enough time to also treat sick patients. Also, modern societies enjoy surplus too much to give it up for career freedom. We may become slaves to our jobs, and changing fields of specialization may be nearly impossible, but we would much rather stick to our single path in life than return to a state where computers and Harry Potter movies did not exist (I use these examples with the assumption that it takes specialists to make computers and special effects).

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