Entrepreneurship, knowledge and employment

Adam Smith and Alexis de Tocqueville on the Division of Labor

Hurtado Jimena , Universidad de los Andes

Adam Smith and Alexis de Tocqueville are recognized for their defense of individual freedom and its association with commercial society, for Smith, and democracy, for Tocqueville. Allthough Smith does not seem to explicitly connect commercial society with democracy, and Tocqueville has been portrayed as a social conservative at times nostalgic of the Ancien Régime, their assessment of the extension of the market and commerce share interesting features. Their view on industrialization, specialization and waged labor is one of these common points. The extension of the market, the division of labor and industrialization promote wealth and prosperity. However, the downside of this wealth and prosperity is that those who produce it do not necessarily benefit from it or can suffer negative consequences from their participation. Smith and Tocqueville call attention on the negative effects the division of labor has on the cognitive skills and intellectual development of specialized industry workers. Tocqueville adds the social immobility these workers find themselves in amidst a world of constant social mobility. In this paper I would like to explore the coincidences and differences in Smith’s and Tocqueville’s assessment of the effects of the division of labor and the extension of the market that point at the vulnerability of the laboring poor.


Keywords: Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, division of labor, laboring poor

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