The Dangers and the Limits of the Division of Labor

"It is well known that too intensive a division of labor can result in the atrophy of certain of our vital functions. There are several reasons for this. To begin with, the greatest part of our waking hours is spent on the job which yields us our daily bread. To be compelled to pass these hours in the performance of one narrowly confined operation is to cause the atrophy not only of certain muscles of the body, but of faculties of the mind and spirit as well. The highly specialized man is robbed of the chance to experience the fulness of his own personality; he becomes stunted. The country youth who comes from an unspecialized milieu will quickly adapt himself to city life. Indeed, it is a popular maxim that the “small town boy” makes good in the big city. On the other hand, the specialized industrial worker who goes to the country is, more often than not, a failure. Modern man does less and less by himself for himself. Canned foods replace those that were once prepared at home; ready-made clothes are substituted for those formerly made by mother or wife; the phonograph, the radio, and now television drive out the music once made around the family piano; football “fans” crowd gigantic stadia to experience on the vicarious level thrills that were once procured by genuine participation. And this vicarious way of life is extended even to letting others manufacture our thoughts and our opinions through the instruments of the press, the radio, and the movies. If credence be given to information emanating from certain cities that the demand for illegitimate children for adoption exceeds the supply, then we have reached the point where people even have their children made by others. Thus, as it encroaches on new fields of human activity, the division of labor leads increasingly to mechanization, to monotonous uniformity, to social and spiritual centralization, to the assembly-line production of human beings, to depersonalization, to collectivization—in a word, to complete meaninglessness which may one day generate a terrible revolt of the masses thus victimized." -- Wilhelm Röpke, Economics of the Free Society


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