This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
But the great principle of division of labor, so very bene ficial in its operations, is yet limited by certain conditions, which it cannot disregard.
1st, When the principle has been so far applied that each operation has been made as simple and fully a unit as human ingenuity can devise. Beyond this, there is no division, but only repetition. Any attempt to refine the process so far as to give the workman less than one naturally complete motion of the body, will only embarrass and delay industry.
2d, When the concentration of capital has become so great that interested personal supervision cannot be brought to bear upon each department, and upon the whole enterprise, with sufficient intensity to insure efficiency and fidelity on the part of those employed, and harmony in the general conduct of the business. Beyond this point, the advantages derived from the power of concentration are neutralized. It may even become mischievous. It is well that there should be limitations, because they prevent such aggregations of capital as would swallow up the whole industry of a state. Experience shows that the greatest establishments are not always or generally the most profitable. Those which are large enough to secure all the real advantages of concentrated capital and combined effort, yet are small enough to be brought under direct, personal, interested supervision, are the most beneficial to their owners and the public.
3d, Where the industry consists of an indefinite number of parts, yet the special circumstances will not allow each workman profitable employment in a single operation, — for example, agriculture in most of its branches: first, from the fact that its operations cannot be sufficiently localized; and, second, from the necessities of the seasons. No department is capable of so much subdivision as this; yet, in practice, none experiences so little. In mining, the fisheries, and many incidental matters, it is effected to a considerable extent; hut, in most of the parts of pure agriculture, it has very limited range. Boys and women are indeed made useful in it, but they have not the same continuous and profitable employment as in manufactures. Nor does their work correspond precisely with what is required in our definition of the division of labor. They are occupied, generally, not in one operation so much as in a miscellaneous class of light duties, too variable to realize the dexterity and thoroughness obtained elsewhere.
There are other instances which seem to approach near to the conditions of the highest efficiency. Some persons are employed for an entire community to plant, to graft, or to team; but not only does the extent of territory limit their application to a single pursuit, but the change of the seasons drives them from one to another almost every month. Stock-raising, and gardening for large markets, afford the best American example in agriculture; yet each of these is not only a considerable department in itself, but whoever engages in either of them must do much not directly connected with it.
The culture of the grape realizes, perhaps, as fully the mechanical advantage of division of labor as any in agriculture.
But, generally speaking, the farmer is a laborer of a thousand duties.
This fact alone does not account for the different productiveness of the manufacturing and the agricultural interests. In the nature of their objects, it is found that machinery must be applied to them in far different proportions. The mechanic arts, which can be localized to the highest degree of concentration, and made general to all seasons of the year, admit also of prodigious multiplication by artificial agents. From these considerations, we deduce the principle, that the value of agricultural products, as a class, — that is, their power in exchange for products other than agricultural,—will be constantly increasing. A bushel of corn, in 1820, would purchase only four yards of cotton cloth. In 1860, it would purchase ten yards of the same or better quality. This difference will continue to grow wider and wider as the mechanic arts advance ; but not indefinitely, inasmuch as the materials of manufactures are always themselves of agricultural origin, and hence the depreciation of the price is limited.
We have thus far spoken of the division of labor as applied only to direct, material production, affecting the laboring classes, and those immediately superintending them; but the principle has been extended to mental labor, as well as that which is simply muscular.
The professions known as the learned, and others which have an important though indirect agency in production (for, unless they have some agency in production, we have nothing to do with them here), naturally divide themselves into branches more or less numerous and special, as occasion offers. The recognition of professions and industrial classes is itself a tribute to the great principle of the division of labor; but it proceeds still further, to assign special functions, within those professions and classes, to individual members.
Thus the law, when a sufficient concentration of legal labor is secured, branches into the departments of titles and conveyances, of insurance, of marine losses, forfeiture and salvage, of patents, of criminal jurisprudence, &c. In medicine, the eye, the ear, the skin, consumption, fevers, cancers, have each their own practitioners.
That science and skill are promoted by such subdivision, and that the immediate efficiency of professional labor is greatly increased thereby, cannot be intelligently questioned.
As any community advances to a higher civilization, specialties are more and more resorted to. Individuals, finding themselves peculiarly adapted by their talents and tastes to a particular calling, or having unusual advantages for the pursuit of it, give themselves up to that object. They concentrate upon it their thoughts, their time, and their resources. They excel. They know more, and can do better, in their chosen line than those about them. This gives them position and power. They are sought for, are looked to, because they have something that is wanted. No matter how humble his station, or how minute his field of investigation, if a man understands something perfectly, his world — whether a hamlet or an empire or the race — will resort to him. He becomes a benefactor of society. He receives its honors and rewards. There is no person in any position in life, however exalted or lowly, who may not advantageously cultivate a specialty.