Division of Labor

Division of labor refers to the reduction in the number of economic tasks assigned to individual workers — that is, to the increased specialization and fragmentation of labor.

Much has been written on this subject. Below are a few words that explain how ENL’s concepts apply to this development.

The division of labor is strongly related to a society’s choice of technological complexity. High technological complexity implies high technological intensity, which entails the need for specialized skills and knowledge in labor processes.

During the lengthy hunter-gatherer phase of human existence labor was divided between men and women, but for the most part it was highly integrated. Much of this integration dissolved as humankind moved to farming and civilization, and it dissolved further as we moved to increasingly complex modes of civilization.

Many of the negative effects of subdividing labor are captured through ENL’s concepts of labor cost and labor distribution. Excessive specialization will be reflected in reduced skill levels and greater boredom, thus lowering the quality of labor and increasing labor cost.

If a society strives for perfect labor distribution, the tendency will be to assign tasks so that the joy from specialized expertise is balanced with the need for varied work experiences.

The results of the division of labor that have received the most attention from standard economists — increased productivity and outputs — are captured in ENL through higher potential value, as well as higher quantities of intermediate outputs. All of these factors are part of ENL's productivity model.

Probably the most significant aspect of the division of labor is its role as an element of social control and increased profits under capitalism. Labor fragmentation allows many tasks to be radically deskilled, which means that the worker can be culturally degraded and largely negated as a revolutionary threat.

This is not speculation. Listen to chemist Andrew Ure, a key capitalist ally during the system’s manufacturing period:

By the infirmity of human nature, it happens that the more skilful the workman, the more self-willed and intractable he is apt to become, and of course the less fit a component of a mechanical system in which… he may do great damage to the whole.1

Regarding profits, consider that the comment sometimes aimed at the American political system — “designed by geniuses so it can be run by idiots” — also applies to a capitalist economy.

If the total money paid to a few well-compensated “geniuses” and many poorly-compensated “idiots” is less than modest compensation for all, the capitalist class will pocket the difference. This is surely a powerful incentive to shape a capitalist economy in precisely this manner.

The assumption underlying ENL is that the framework will replace capitalist logic for the purpose of economic guidance after a progressive contractionary revolution.

If this occurs, capitalist motivations will no longer apply, and the destructive division of labor that now prevails will likely disappear as a consequence.

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