Social division of labor

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Social division of labor, one of the two aspects of the 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.[1] Prior to centralized manufacturing, individuals specialized in the production of one product, trading their final product for final products made by other individuals. This can refer to specialized trades within a community, such as master sewers, blacksmiths, farmers, etc., or also the specializations of whole communities in contact with each other, such as one community making clothes, one making tools, and another producing food, which they exchange. Social division of labor greatly increases productivity, because individuals can produce the product in which they have a comparative advantage, and trade it to the individuals who cannot efficiently produce it for the products they need. The social division of labor creates exchange market and prices, by comparing the cost and time of making each product.

Social division of labor can be advantageous; however, too much specialization can be disadvantageous due to three main reasons. If a community specializes on a product too much, the community will become dependent on the success of their product and will endure an economic disaster if their product becomes replaced or goes extinct. For example, if bananas go extinct or grow under bad seasonal conditions in a country such as Ecuador, the economy will suffer along with the whole community. Another case in which too much specialization could backfire is if all communities relied on one community to produce a certain product, because then the community would have a monopoly on that product and would have the ability to withhold production for their own greater benefit. A final problem is that individual workers who specialize in highly specific occupational skill-sets are vulnerable to economic reorganization associated with volatile 'product cycles' and developments of new industries where representation in union constituencies may change (e.g., financial services) over older, outsourced or automated ones (e.g., weaving).[2] Marxists argue that capitalism, and modes of production in general, change through revolutions in the means of production, which produce unemployed workers over-specializing in niche occupations, and hence, cannot enter the labour force to solve spiraling unemployment problems when these disappear.[3][4]

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  1. ^ Mandel, E. (1977). Introduction. In Marx, K. (1977). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume One. New York: Vintage Books, pg. 55.
  2. ^ Silver, B.J. (2003). Forces of Labor: Workers Movements and Globalization Since 1870. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  3. ^ Yates, M. (2003). Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy. New York: Monthly Review Press, pg. 92-3.
  4. ^ Marx, K. (1977). Capital: A Critique of Political Economy, Volume One. Trans. Ben Fowkes. New York: Vintage Books, pg. 772; 781-94.