The division of labor consists of the division of the different tasks that make up the productive process of a good or service, which is distributed among a specific group of people.
In other words, the division of labor, although it tends to be confused, is the origin of the specialization of labor. This consists of the fragmentation of the tasks necessary for the production of a good or service, which are distributed among a series of individuals, usually based on their strength, capacity, specialty or nature. Over time, the division of labor allowed increased productivity in certain tasks through specialization, as well as the development of societies.
Great economists like Adam Smith or Karl Marx deepened their studies on the division of labor. This phenomenon is considered one of the fundamental pillars for economic development throughout history.
Origin of the division of labor
Throughout history, agrarian societies were exclusively dedicated to agriculture. Faced with the appearance of needs such as commerce, crafts or the creation of a military system that would guarantee the safety of individuals, the division of labor arises. To do this, it is crucial to know what the surplus production meant. When the technical development of the tasks produced an increase in productivity and, with it, a surplus of production, the rest of the individuals could dedicate themselves to other tasks such as war or crafts, without having to dedicate themselves to agriculture to be able to feed themselves.
The production surplus allowed a number of people to continue feeding, despite dedicating themselves to other tasks such as war. Thus arises the division of labor, allowing societies to organize themselves in a more plural way, as well as in numerous functions and very different trades. However, at the beginning of society, the division of labor was directly related to the production surplus, since this marked the division’s capacity based on the number of people who could supply themselves with the surplus.
The division of labor according to Adam Smith and Karl Marx
The division of labor was the object of study for great economists throughout history. Due to the relevance of some, the most prominent were Adam Smith and Karl Marx.
For Adam Smith, the division of labor was one of the main causes for nations to increase their wealth. According to the Scottish economist and father of the classical school, the division of labor allowed large increases in productivity, since the worker did not need the constant change of utensil in the manufacturing process. As a result of the fact that it only carried out one task in the production process. This, for Smith, allowed producers to save capital, since a worker did not need to have all the tools for the preparation of a good or service, but those that he needed to carry out his task within the production process.
In this way, Smith considered that, through the division of labor, the worker was becoming more and more specialized in his function. This allowed that, by gaining experience in certain tasks, these were perfected over time. In turn, this phenomenon favored the technical development of tasks. This happened because the specialized workers had more and more knowledge about the task, allowing them the development of new tools and techniques. Phenomenon that allowed him to develop the task in a more efficient and mechanized way.
On the other hand, Adam Smith highlighted several negative factors that originated from the division of labor. Among them, the division, in turn, of wages. Smith considered that the division of labor, depending on the task to be carried out, produced salary differences between the different individuals, based on the characteristics of the task to be carried out. On the other hand, Smith also considered the deterioration of the advance of knowledge, when developing highly mechanized and monotonous tasks. For this, Smith considered that the division of labor should be compensated with an incentive for education, to mitigate this deterioration.
On the other hand, although in the line of Smith, Marx argued the possible problems of specialization, since he considered that, over time, the monotony of performing repetitive tasks ended up frustrating workers. In turn, Marx assumed that, in a scenario where tasks were increasingly repetitive, the worker needs less knowledge for the development of his work. This, for Marx, results in a lower future qualification of employees, who need less knowledge than they would need if they had to perform the entire productive task.
Within its theoretical applications, for Marx, and in reference to his theory of the class struggle, he considered that, on occasions, the division of labor came from a relationship of dependency due to questions of hierarchies, thus establishing social control. Furthermore, for Marx, the division of labor was expressed more naturally and in a more developed way within a communist system, since it did not establish such hierarchical principles.
As we can see, Marx’s vision was closely related to Adam Smith. Both conceptions had common features in the effects on the individual, differing in the social structure that this phenomenon produced.
Advantages and disadvantages of the division of labor
The advantages of the division of labor include:
- Productivity increases.
- Higher quality in the product or service.
- Lower costs in production.
- Ease of technological development.
- Improvement of the quality of life of the worker.
On the other hand, the disadvantages of the division of labor that we could highlight are:
- Monotony of the worker’s life.
- Frustration from continuous repetition of tasks.
- Less technical knowledge.
- Greater dependence on the employer.
- Destruction of the creative spirit