Division of Labor

Since Plato's Republic (ca. 830 BC), the division of labor has occupied an important space in social and political thought. However, it was given its decisive modern formulation in Adam Smith's The Wealth of Nations (1776). The story here is as follows: prior to the Industrial Revolution, the predominant unit of production was the family, and each family was responsible for producing the vast majority of what it consumed. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, however, the factory became the primary unit of production, and individual workers specialized in distinct and discrete productive tasks. Smith suggested that this brought about increases in productivity and efficiency. To illustrate: imagine two workers who are both producing bread and beer for themselves. If one were to specialize ...

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