Karl Marx arrives for his first day of work in a factory, only to find that Adam Smith happens to own the factory.
Marx: You’re kidding me, right?
Marx: I’m taking on this factory job to, you know, unite with the proletariat and stuff, and I get landed with Adam Smith as my boss. This is just too perfect.
Marx: Well, I spend every flipping day inciting workers to unite against the bourgeoisie, and actually see that they are part of one big, sad, oppressed class. And now here I am, standing across from the man that basically let the whole bourgeoisie class feel guiltless about stripping the proletariat of their humanity.
Smith: Oh, so you think I’m the reason the bourgeoisie doesn’t feel guilty about the so-called oppression of the proletariat? Actually, wasn’t it you who said that the class situation of the bourgeoisie makes them think the way they do about the world? If you really believed your own theory, you would believe it was impossible for me to have influenced their attitudes towards capitalism.
Marx: You know who I am, then? You’ve read my stuff? Aren’t we proletarians just one big, nameless commodity to you? Come on, admit it.
Smith: I would hardly call you a proletarian.
Marx: Whatever. Let’s tour the factory. Oh, do you see this assembly line? Know what it does?
Smith: Sure. Every worker’s job is reduced to a simple, small task, to the extent that their skills increase tenfold at that one, single task. Not to mention, they aren’t wasting time switching between jobs. The assembly line increases efficiency.
Marx: And you think that’s a good thing?
Smith: Certainly. Just look around the world. The most efficient industries produce the best products and generate the most revenue. Simply put, the quality of their citizens’ lives are just better.
Marx: Come on now, which citizens’ lives are you referring to? Our society only ever looks through the lens of the bourgeoisie. If we were to look through the eyes of the proletariat, we would see that the oversimplification of labor drives wages down, which in turn forces more members of each family to enter the work force. And then, what do you know, the larger work force creates more competition for jobs, which in turn further lowers wages. So tell me, who has this high quality of life to which you are referring?
Smith: Um, the country does. The country is improving and moving along. I never said anything about the quality of life of the proletariat. Anyway, wouldn’t you agree that before the division of labor, everyone was saddled with more work? In unindustrialized countries, people many different types of work, whereas here, one only needs to do one type.
Marx: Well, at least in those countries, everyone is still connected to the product of their work. No bourgeoisie is exploiting them, either; they don’t have to undersell their labor to anyone.
Smith: So you’re proposing that we go back to caveman times?
Marx: No, I’m proposing that the proletariat take control the means of production, rather than continuing to suffer under the bourgeoisie.
Smith: You make it sound so easy. Don’t you see that everyone is selfish? They’re not going to give themselves up to the cause, or let any property be “public property” like you imagine. Selfishness, by contrast, is what makes capitalism work; it’s what causes entrepreneurs to rush into good industries, and drop out when they have negative profit margins. Selfishness creates that balance between supply and demand.
Marx: Haven’t you read St. Simon? At least he thinks of how the people will suffer before balance is achieved. Anyway, I’ve got to go. I’m finally here among the proletariat, and they still haven’t achieved class-consciousness. I’ve got work to do.
Smith: Sure thing. And I’m going to go increase the efficiency of my factory. After all, I’m after profit.
Marx: Sounds amoral, man, but you’ll be powerless one day.
Smith: Good luck with that.