Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Civilizing Influence of the Division of Labor

It is no exaggeration to say that all economic progress is the result of the division of labor, AKA specialization. Were each of us Required to live entirely on our own production, not one person in a million would live for more than a week. Consider if one were a Robinson Crusoe, marooned on an island that naturally provided many of our most pressing needs, such as water and some edible fruits. Nevertheless, in a very short period of time few of us would be able to feed, clothe, or house ourselves adequately. We would not be able to provide heat for cooking or keeping ourselves warm against the elements; we would not be able to provide ourselves with medical care, because we would not be able to produce something as commonplace as a bandage much less modern antibiotics. There would be no screens to protect us from insects or adequate roofing to protect us from rain. The list goes on and on. There is no historic record of man, even from primitive times, who was not part of some larger grouping.

For this reason we refer to man as civilized. He lives in a civil society of other men. There are few men--perhaps there are no men—who live completely autonomously on our planet. But for man to live in civil society requires that he adopt certain standards of behavior. Since he must specialize in one or only a very few tasks, he must rely upon others to provide him with all of his needs. This physical, and perhaps even emotional/psychological, need means that man must be cooperative, trustworthy, and ethical. Otherwise, other men would not cooperate with him.

A man who fails to exhibit these civilized characteristics becomes an outlaw. If he cheats his fellow man instead of living up to his promises to cooperate, no one will allow him into the circle of men who specialize for their greater benefit. In ancient times, one of the worst punishments to be visited upon a criminal was to be ostracized from Greek society. The criminal, whose activities are the antithesis of what is required for a civilized society, would be placed beyond the walls of the city and not allowed to return. He would be forced to wander alone, providing for himself as best he could or seeking acceptance into some other city. But why would some other city accept him? He had proven himself to be an outlaw. Ostracism became a death sentence for most, because it placed man outside the circle of those engaged in peaceful specialization.

This is the dilemma of those with criminal records today. They have trouble finding a job, which means that other men will not allow them to engage in the division of labor so that they may benefit from modern civil society. They must accept the meanest of employment, if they can find it, or live at the expense of others who are allowed to engage in specialization.

Some countries become criminal nations. They wish to rob the rest of the world of its product. But in order to become a criminal nation, these countries must first become completely self-sufficient. For if they depended upon overseas trade to provide them with some necessities, they would be vulnerable to a cutoff in trade that would thwart their evil intentions. Therefore, Nazi Germany attempted to become completely autarkic by invading its neighbors for vital raw materials before the rest of the world could stop it. This was the necessity behind the Blitzkrieg or Lightning War. Once Germany became self-sufficient, it could take its time to threaten and plunder the rest of the world.

The nation today that exhibits these autarkic characteristics is North Korea. But it has found that its people will starve without a minimal amount of trade; therefore, it periodically agrees to some international demand that it dismantle its nuclear weapons program in order to gain necessary imports such as oil. When it feels it has stockpiled enough of the vital, missing resource, it reneges on its agreement. North Korea has done this time and time again, which must lead the rest of the world, especially its neighbors—South Korea and Japan—to conclude that it is intent upon a Blitzkrieg war. Their only rational response is to end further blackmail-type agreements and defend themselves to such an extent that the North Koreans would not dare attack. This means building an anti-missile defense shield and arming themselves with nuclear weapons. This response is the opposite of all the current so-called diplomacy which seeks to cajole the North Koreans into becoming…well, civilized, but it is the only response that has any hope of working. It is the very response that was adopted by the West against the Soviet Union and which our current Secretary of State has hinted may be used against Iran.

So, what are we to think of the demands by some that America stop “exporting jobs”, that we reign in “globalization” of business, etc.? America is not the only country with factions calling for measures to prohibit native companies from seeking suppliers from overseas. Obviously, this is a veiled call for an end to the division of international labor in favor of national autarky. This attack upon specialization is a call for an end to civilization, for by what principle are we to stop at an end to specialization beyond our shores? If international specialization has no benefit, why do we trade beyond our home state or city or neighborhood?

A call to end international specialization is a call for war, for if a nation does not need the cooperation of its neighbors in order to improve its economic condition, there is no need to consider the citizens of other nations to be anything other than victims to be plundered. This was the policy of the National Socialists in Germany. Attacks upon free exchange among all the peoples of the world are attacks upon the international division of labor and are attacks upon civilization itself. We should see through these demands and view them for what they really are—calls to behave as a criminal among the nations of the world.

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