Small Element, Big Difference: A comparison of Adam Smith and Karl Marx's view on labor in a capitalist society.

Topics: Marxism, Communism, Capitalism Pages: 5 (1710 words) Published: February 4, 2005
Adam Smith and Karl Marx are both considered few of the most influential giants in social and economical history. When viewing their economical standpoints, it is not difficult to recognize the difference in ideas that they have regarding society. Adam Smith is an advocator for capitalism and the wealth that can be accumulated in it, while Karl Marx critiques on the flaws of capitalism and praises communism that will overthrow the capitalist society. However, both of them base their theories on the characteristic of labor. Even though Marx and Smith both point to the significance of one's labor in a capitalist society, Smith views labor as having the potential, in conjunction with the division of labor, to stimulate the public wealth and encourage the growth of an ultimately unregulated opulent commercial society. Marx, while starting at a conceptually similar point, observes that in a capitalist system people cannot acquire the wealth produced by their labor due to the alienation between the laborer and his/her means of production. The result of this alienation is exponential division of wealth between the rich bourgeois and the deprived proletariat, leading to revolution in the capitalist economy.

Although ownership of one's own labor is a key element in both Smith and Marx's theories, they have subtle dissimilarities, leading to substantial opposing conclusions about a capitalist society. In a capitalist society, while Smith views labor as the most sanctified property in the laborers disposal to achieve the goals of self-interest, Marx states that with two classes in society, labor is not truly "free" to use since the laborer is forced to work for the capitalist owner in order to survive. This is because of the alienation between the laborer and his means of production. As Marx states, " If the product of work is externalization, production itself must be active externalization" If the worker is alienated from the product, then the worker is alienated from production itself. According to Smith, one's property is determined by his/her labor. He states that, "the property which every man has in his own labor, the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. To hinder a poor man from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper, without injury to his neighbor, is a plain violation of this most sacred property," clearing indicating that one should use his/her labor to act towards his/her self-betterment. He also makes it clear that depriving the use of this labor is clearly an intolerable violation of property. Even though Marx agrees with Smith by stating "labour-power can appear on the market as a commodity only if, and in so far as, it's possessor, the individual whose labour power it is, offers it for sell or sells it as a commodity," he believes that for the proletariat, the freedom of using their labor-power is deprived. When an individual sells his/her labor as a commodity to the Bourgeoisie, he/she sells his/her labor time instead of the product itself. As Marx observes that capitalism "has resolved personal worth into exchange value," the workers become simply commodities and loses control of the products and their means of production. In result, the worker is forced to sell his/her labor-power because the consequence of not doing so is starvation. Marx states that the worker "must be free in the double sense that as a free individual he can dispose of his labour-power as his own commodity, and that, on the other hand, he has no other commodity for sale." This "forced" labor causes the workers to be further alienated from their labor, their products, others, and even themselves. As Smith believes that, in a capitalist society, one's labor is free for his/her own self-interest, Marx recognizes that labor-power is not truly free but forced because of alienation. This seemingly insignificant difference led the two thinkers into very dissimilar...
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