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Division of Labor: Aspects of Capitalism Essay


The division of labor is one of the most important aspects of capitalism. Capitalists are often keen on investing in labor to get returns. According to Liu and Shang, “the value of all goods and services (all commodity value) is created by human labor,” (199). As such, a capitalist will be keen on ensuring that the amount of money used in buying labor is less than the value generated by using the same labor. During the industrial revolution, capitalists noted that the best way of getting the highest value from human labor is to promote the division of labor. Division of labor makes it possible for one to acquire more skills in a given area through a specialization.

It makes one more efficient in undertaking a given duty over a given period. However, Litan and Schramm say that some scholars have criticized the division of labor, claiming that it makes people function like machines (25). It creates an environment where capitalists focus on how much more they can get from people who work for them without giving due consideration to their social needs. Unlike machines, human beings have feelings and they have their limits. There is a way in which they have to be treated to get the best out of them. Failing to take into consideration their socio-emotional needs may have a serious negative impact on their productivity.

In the structure of this paper, the first part introduces the topic. The paper then focuses on the differences between the social division of labor and the detailed division of labor. The Babbage principle and Rice’s play are also analyzed to help in understanding the relevance of the division of labor in a capitalist mode of production. The next section looks at the social consequences of the capitalist organization of products before concluding this topic. The last section is a list of works cited in the paper.

Social Division of Labor and the Detail Division of Labor

According to Liu and Shang, division of labor is an aspect of the capitalist mode of production that became very important during the time of the industrial revolution (201). The industrialists realized that people were spending more time moving from one point to another. Time was also lost when one switched from undertaking one task to another. Through the division of labor, movement of human labor within the workplace was significantly reduced and people gained more skills and became more efficient working on a specific field. Specialization became relevant because of the division of labor. It is important to look at the difference between the social division of labor and the detailed division of labor.

According to Fraser, the social division of labor is “the social structural foundation of the specialized commodity production divided between industries, firms, and occupations of workers, or the technical division of tasks,” (168). López-Córdova says that social division of labor is “an important factor in determining the rate of technological development, the extent of stratification and inequality, and the degree for socio-cultural solidarity and cohesion,” (190). On the other hand, Litan and Schramm say that “the detailed division of labor breaks the manufacturing of a product down into simple discrete steps, and then assigns each task to an individual workman,” (26). The two definitions bring out the difference that exists between the social division of labor and a detailed division of labor.

Social division of labor is a broader perspective of looking at the division of labor than a detailed division of labor. Social division of labor, according to Braverman, helps in determining the rates at which technology is developing about human labor (51). The more technology develops, the more human labor, especially those that involve manual tasks, become irrelevant. It means that individuals who lack highly specialized skills are increasingly becoming jobless as their positions are taken over by machines. As capitalists rely more on machines other than human labor, the poor become poorer as they are rendered jobless. On the other hand, the rich become richer because the use of machines is proving to be less expensive compared with the use of human labor.

Development of technology, although it makes life easy, causes inequality in society. On one end, some have more than they can ever use in their entire lifetime. On the other end, some are forced to go without basic needs because they are poor. Social division of labor looks at the issue of socio-cultural solidarity and cohesion. It looks at the extent to which division of labor contributes to social and cultural solidarity. It emphasizes the need for the capitalists to look at human resources as individuals who have feelings and ought to be respected and taken care of instead of being viewed as properties that can be controlled like machines. The employees are not slaves and never should be treated as such.

Detailed division of labor, on the other hand, narrows down breaking of manufacturing into discrete steps then assigning of individual tasks to specific employees (Litan and Schramm 29). In an organizational setting, it is the actual step of outlining different tasks that should be performed to achieve strategic objectives and goals, and then assigning different employees specific tasks based on their skills and experience. Unlike the social division of labor, a detailed division of labor does not focus significantly on the social impact of factors related to the division of labor and capitalism. It only looks at how specific tasks should be performed by specific individuals who have the right skills and experience.

Babbage Principle

Babbage Principle is critical in understanding the relevance of the division of labor in a capitalist mode of production. This principle holds that there are commercial advantages of the division of labor if it is done in the right way. In this context, it is argued that the division of labor can only be economically beneficial if the right people are assigned to the right jobs. In many cases, value is often lost because skilled workers are forced to spend part or most of their time on assignments, which are below the level of their skills. Fraser refers to such a phenomenon of degradation of work (180). It is a situation in which the system fails to tap the best out of their employees.

For instance, when an engineer is forced to spend time repairing machines in a company, a task that can be performed easily by a technician, then the value of the engineer’s skills is lost. Such cases are common when the management is not keen on ensuring that the organization has the right composition of skilled, semi-skilled, and unskilled labor force. The capitalist will be getting less than what is expected of the engineer at a cost that would have yielded higher returns. As such, this principle proposes that high-skill tasks should be assigned to high-cost workers. It will help in ensuring that a company gets the most out of its high-cost employees. Those who are given high compensations should be capable of giving high returns to the company. The division of labor, therefore, should be a means through which a company identifies highly talented employees and assigns them to the tasks that would yield high returns.

Rice’s Play

Rice’s Play, ‘The Adding Machine’, can perfectly illustrate the effects that Braverman describes in respect to the division of labor (52). In this play, Mr. Zero faces a layoff because of modernization at a company he has been working in for the last 25 years. His boss informs him that his services will no longer be needed because a machine that can do the same task more efficiently and at a lesser cost had been purchased. In his anger, Mr. Zero kills his boss because he feels unappreciated. He is sentenced to death because of murder. After his death, he goes to heaven to continue doing what he was doing before his death. However, even in heaven, he is informed that his services will not be needed, and as such he is sent to earth to be reused.

This play reaffirms what Braverman describes as the negative consequences of the division of labor (58). If not approached carefully, investors may equate human labor to machines. The moment it is determined that a machine can deliver a better value compared with what human labor delivers, then a capitalist would not hesitate in replacing an employee with a machine. The capitalist will ignore all the social consequences of replacing human labor with machines. In Rice’s play, it is evident that the capitalist and the employee are both losers. In this case of the play, both the capitalist and the employee end up dead. As in this play, the division of labor in the capitalist mode of production should be approached with caution. There should be an effort to factor in both socio-economic and environmental forces when assigning tasks to different employees and when introducing the use of new machines.

Social Consequences of the Capitalist Organization of Production

Babbage Principle and Rice’s play underscore the need to approach the capitalist organization of production with caution. In the modern world, it may not be possible to entirely avoid capitalism. It is the mode of production that has proven to be viable in a free world. However, there are several social consequences of the capitalist organization of production that are worth discussing in this paper. One of the biggest consequences of the capitalist organization of production is the social inequality that it creates. As the capitalists try to increase their profits, one of the things they are keen on is to lower the cost of production (including the cost of labor) as much as possible. It means that as the rich become richer, the poor become even poorer than ever before (Litan and Schramm 33). The gap between the poor and the rich keeps widening due to the capitalist organization of production.

Embracing the capitalist organization of production means focusing primarily on profitability and ignoring the social and environmental factors of sustainability. For instance, many manufacturers are constantly retrenching their employees because of the emergence of new machines that can perform tasks previously undertaken by human labor. As such, employers are opting to use machines instead of human labor. They ignore the trickledown effect caused by the unemployment they create. The more people they retrench, the less powerful the country’s purchasing power becomes.

As more people lose their jobs to machines, companies find themselves in a situation where only a few people can afford to purchase their items. It means that these companies will be faced with reduced profitability because of the reduced number of people who can afford their products. Just like it was demonstrated in Rice’s play, everyone becomes a loser when profitability is given priority over the other two pillars of sustainability. In the short-run, the companies may experience an increase in profitability, but after a while, the negative effects will be felt. Capitalist organization of production also creates a culture where everyone strives to achieve personal goals instead of looking at organizational interest. In such environments, employees’ main interest would be to secure their future either at the firm or in another setting, paying little attention to the need to focus on the firm’s strategic objectives.

Conclusion

In the current capitalist mode of production, division of labor is very important. However, if not approached with care, the capitalist organization of production has several consequences that may affect both employees and employers negatively. Division of labor should be considered as an avenue through which employees are assigned tasks that match their skills. It should help in getting the best out of every employee.

Works Cited

Braverman, Harry. Labor and Monopoly Capital: The Degradation of Work in the Twentieth Century. Monthly Review Press, 1998.

Fraser, Nancy. “Legitimation Crisis? On the Political Contradictions of Financialized Capitalism.” Critical Historical Studies, vol. 2, no. 2, 2015, pp. 157–189.

Litan, Robert, and Carl Schramm. “Toward Better Capitalism.” Better Capitalism, vol. 5, no. 2, 2012, pp. 1–34.

Liu, Fengyi, and Wen Shang. “Research On The Effects Of Labor Relations Under The Modularity Division Of Labor.” World Review of Political Economy, vol. 3, no. 2, 2012, pp. 191–202.

López-Córdova, Dania. “Peonage and Slave Labor in Mexico during the Porfirian Age.” Review (Fernand Braudel Center), vol. 35, no. 3, 2012, pp. 187–209.

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IvyPanda. "Division of Labor: Aspects of Capitalism." September 17, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/division-of-labor-aspects-of-capitalism/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Division of Labor: Aspects of Capitalism." September 17, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/division-of-labor-aspects-of-capitalism/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Division of Labor: Aspects of Capitalism'. 17 September.

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