This section is from the "Economics In Two Volumes: Volume I. Economic Principles" book, by Frank A. Fetter. Also available from Amazon: Economic
The many rewards open to personal merit and the chance for every worker to improve his position, have helped to stimulate here to greater energy and to a faster working pace in most grades of labor than is found elsewhere in the world. There is danger that under the new conditions of population and industry something of the spirit of enterprise will be lost. To Western eyes already the young men in the older East seem to be trammeled by social conventions. In an older community there is less of hopeful ambition; one's position depends more on what his fathers achieved; in the new community, more on what he does himself. If it is true, as wise students declare, that the frontier has been the nursery of our democratic ideas, we may well ask what effect the closing of the frontier will have on our national sentiment and on our material prosperity.
§ 8. Balance of advantage between work and leisure. Custom and national temperament affect the efficiency of labor by determining the normal period of labor-time. After the bare necessities of life are provided for, the worker has a wide or narrow margin of productive energy to use as he pleases. If four hours' work a day would enable him to live, will he work longer or will he stop? The answer is determined by the balance between the value of leisure and the value of labor's product. Is the lure of the fruits of additional hours of labor stronger than the desire for idleness? Does the pain of toil repel more than its fruits attract? Individual differences are plainly expressed when each man labors on his own field. The prudent man, in the old maxims, makes hay while the sun shines and plows deep while sluggards sleep. National and religious holidays in some countries make an enormous loss of time from industry a patriotic and pious duty. The use made of spare time differs according to climate, race, and temperament. In the tropics the margin is converted usually into loafing, in the temperate zones largely into objective forms of enjoyment. In the modern large organization of industry, working hours are much the same for all workers in the establishment. Individual preferences are still expressed, however, in irregularity of employment. In the South some manufacturers have found that on an average the negroes will work in a factory not more than five or six hours a day, perhaps working ten hours for four days and staying away two days a week. Such limited working hours mark a primitive standard of desires and primitive industrial qualities, altho a shortening of the long working day of ten or twelve hours, as incomes increase above bare subsistence, is in accord with a rational valuation of leisure. A moderate change in that direction can not but increase rather than diminish the efficiency of labor.
§ 9. Division of labor and exchange. The term "division of labor" is simple, but the thought is a complex one. Its full discussion would cover the whole field of political economy, but only its most essential aspects can here be touched upon. Division of labor is a term expressing that complex arrangement of industrial society whereby individual workers are enabled to apply themselves to the production of certain kinds of goods, securing others by trade. Division of labor and exchange are counterparts and mutually determine each other. On Robinson Crusoe's island there could be no division of labor. Division of labor depends on the extent of the market, and in turn widens its limits. The number of articles that any one would care to produce at one time and place depends on the opportunity to exchange them. Those two aspects of industry thus are inseparable in thought and practice. The worker finds division of labor existing as a social institution and, according as he adapts himself to it wisely or foolishly, it increases more or less his efficiency. Division of labor necessitates variety of regular occupations, and the practice of special trades and professions. Specialization is the individual aspect of division of labor. It is doing one comparatively limited kind of task with the purpose of becoming more expert in it. The term division of labor, however, suggests more broadly the situation where two or more persons are specializing and are trading directly or indirectly with each other.
§ 10. Individual and territorial division. Division of labor may be between individuals in the same community or between those in different territories and nations. In division of labor between occupations, each worker applies himself to the production of some product or group of products and secures other goods by trade. When a number of workers in a locality engage in the fabrication of one kind of product to trade with persons in another community, it is territorial division of labor. This trade may be between persons living in different localities in the same country (called localization of industry) or between the citizens of two nations, in foreign trade. Division of labor usually begins in some natural differences, of soil, climate, mineral and forest resources, or water-power (see Chapter 6, section 11, on origin of markets) . Whatever its origin it leads to individual specialization which becomes fixed by habit and training. To the original natural advantage are thus added the advantages of a larger and regular labor-supply, of nearness to related and tributary industries, and of the greater chance to use waste products, and frequently the economics of large-scale production (see below, Chapter 31). The natural advantages in another district must be large to enable.it to start successfully against these acquired economies, and territorial division of labor thus tends to continue for long periods when once established.
§ 11. Advantages of specialization. There is a tradition that an ingenious lecturer in one of our universities was accustomed to give to his class eighty reasons why division of labor was of advantage. It is none too many, as every reason for the modern, as contrasted with the primitive, organization of industry should be included. Apart from natural differences in localities, most of these relate to specialization. Specialization increases efficiency by: (a) saving time; (b) saving tools and materials; (c) improving quality; (d) increasing skill; (e) increasing knowledge; (f) stimulating invention; (g) encouraging enterprise; (h) economizing talent. The headings just given may serve to suggest the leading phases of this subject.
(a) Specialization saves time by making unnecessary the physical change of place for the worker, the frequent shifting of tools, and the mental readjustment required for the undertaking of a new task.
(b) Specialization saves tools, for either each kind of work must be most ineffectively done, or there must be provided for each worker a complete set of tools which thus will be used rarely and will rust out rather than wear out. If a few tools are thoroly used, they yield a larger income and require less care and repairs in proportion to their uses. In fact, this fuller economic use of machinery and plant where a large product is turned out at one place, is a prime factor in the advantages of large production (a subject to be treated elsewhere, Chapter 31, much more fully than is here possible).
(c) By specialization is made possible a quality of goods never to be secured by the less skilled efforts of the Jack-of-all-trades.
(d) Specialization develops skill, as repetition of the same task trains the muscles, forms a mental habit, and gives swiftness and deftness of touch.
(e) The specialist is able to give much longer time to education and training for his lifework, and he continues to grow in knowledge of his materials and of the best processes, and he gains a power of delicate observation and facility in meeting new difficulties that are impossible when attention is divided among a number of tasks.
(f) By dividing and simplifying processes, specialization stimulates invention. The most complex machines have been developed gradually by combinations and adaptations of simple tools, and the more a process is subdivided, the greater is the chance of hitting upon a device to repeat mechanically the few simple movements.
(g) Specialization increases the motives of emulation and enterprise, by making it possible for each man to see better what is needed and to make a more exact comparison of results.
(h) It economizes talent by giving to each the highest task of which he is capable, while fitting the less efficient workers into the minor places made possible by subdivision. In an American wagon-factory, a one-armed man operating a machine was able to turn out as large a product and earn as high wages as any other employee. The same advantages of specialization are found with modifying conditions in educational and professional lines. The marvelous progress of science in recent years has been made possible by each student and investigator doing a few things and doing them well.
§ 12. Best adjustment of talents and occupations. Most young people give slight reflection to the choice of an occupation. The world is filled with industrial misfits, "round men in square holes," good carpenters spoiled to make poor doctors. The individual worker, to attain his highest economic efficiency, must select from the occupations made possible by division of labor the one for which his talents are best fitted. It so often happens that the natural aptitude of the youth is the thing last or, in any event, least considered. Unreasoning imitation, family traditions, parental wishes, class pride, social prejudice, childish whim, are often decisive of the life career. Some occupations have so few chances of advancement that they are called the " blind alley trades," yet to start in them is so easy that they attract the unthinking youth, especially those with impoverished parents. Happily in some cases, before too late, the man "finds himself," but too often the poverty of the family and the obstacles to education preclude the exercise of intelligent choice.
Since the beginning of the century some serious efforts have been made to meet this difficulty by what is called vocational guidance. In some of the German schools in recent years the children's aptitudes have been carefully studied, and definite advice has been given. Bureaus of vocational guidance are maintained now in some American cities. With more careful studies of the strength, health, qualities of sight, hearing, touch, natural aptitudes and tastes, one of the greatest of social and economic services will be in this way performed.
It is of importance to society as well as to the individual that talent should be discovered in time, that tasks should be fitted to aptitudes, that each member of society should attain to his highest efficiency. The approach to this ideal - made possible by popular education, the decline of caste, the spread of genuine democracy, the progress of social justice - will increase not only the workers' efficiency, but society's abiding welfare.