Marx Contrasting Smith

In the writings of the Compte de Sainte Simon, Robert Owens, and Karl Marx, an alternate perspective- other than laissez faire capitalism- regarding industry is approached. Adam Smith- a strong proponent of the productivity that the division of labor supplied the economy- stated that industrial perspectives were the ideal way to support the economy. However, these three writers offer contrasting perspectives that certainly align more with socialism. In “Estranged Labour,” written in 1844, Marx specifically discusses how these economic changes towards industry will actually cause a cultural collapse. Instead of the idea that Smith discusses where industry will expand our economy through efficiency, Marx notes that this move will actually sever the two classes, of which only one will economically benefit. Smith’s focus of production proves to Marx that the quantity of production has overshadowed the quality of lives of those producing the goods. Marx sees that society will become even more divided and the property and factory owners will excel- be able to buy afford more, have more choice due to expanded production, etc- and yet those doing the producing will see none of the benefits of what they create. The gap between the classes will be entirely exacerbated as the workers will never live in the type of society that the goods they produce belong to. Not only does these create an economic gap, but also a largely societal one where the owners and the producers cannot relate on a basic human level: the owner does not respect the worker and the worker resents the owner.

When looking at Marx’s theory of the alienation of the workers and the owners, it is evident that these issues still exist. However, instead of simply having one owner and many workers in a community, the workers that are isolated from society are out of sight in other countries that are easy to exploit and the citizens of wealthy, western nations serve the role of the owners. Our nations’s wealth provides access to the products that the workers slave all day to make, yet they would never be able to afford those products. They work their whole day to create a society they will never live in. In a world that understands both Smith and Marx, have we consciously chosen that exploitation of others because we truly believe in Smith and laissez faire or because Marx is inconvenient?

5 thoughts on “Marx Contrasting Smith

  1. According to Marx, conflict among the classes arise under capitalist societies because of the growing gap between the surplus laboring proletariat and those who benefit from this labor; the bourgeoisie. This is a factor in most, if not all, capitalist societies. I do not necessarily think that we, as western societies have “chosen” this kind of exploitation, rather, I think that it is just an inevitable and unavoidable factor of capitalism. And while Marx offers a critique of this method, he is not as frank when explaining how to undo or reverse the effects of capitalism without disrupting the entire economic flow of a nation.

  2. I completely agree with the above comment. While I believe Marx is correct in saying that a large gap in classes is a negative for any given country, it is bound to happen in any capitalist society. In a system where a person owns the factories that many others work at, there will be a large gap in final income distribution. This does not mean that we should abandon capitalism, however. It has been shown to be the strongest type of economy in today’s day and age, and although it is flawed, it is our best bet going forward.

  3. This is an interesting analogy. In answering your question, I would argue that Marx doesn’t apply to the situation. While there is a distinction between the laborers and the owners, Marx’s writing seems to apply more to a division of classes within a society. On the contemporary world scale, one cannot apply Marx’s theories to international relations, for not all countries are developed to the same level of economic success. While the laborers of other countries serve to produce items for the “owners”, many more work for domestic benefit and yet suffer similar conditions to those essentially working for other nations. Yes, the laborers might come to resent the consumers, but they can also look toward their own government for a solution, which often doesn’t provide them with one.

  4. I agree with the above comment. It is very clear in Marx’s writing that he is looking past the simple separation of workers and owners. He compares the worker to the object that the worker creates, saying “the greater this product, the less himself.” Marx has taken this idea and shrunken it down to very specific situations and it becomes harder to apply that outside of his own world.

  5. The way in which Smith’s document was written differs drastically from the way in which Marx’s “Estranged Labor” was written. Smith takes a very factual tone, while Marx’s is argumentative and impassioned. Smith fails to acknowledge potential aberrations in the division of labor, and Marx neglects mentioning positive aspects to the system of specialization and labor division. Marx also fails to propose solutions to the faults in the system in which the worker is estranged from himself and his species, and Smith fails to propose solutions to any faults in the division of labor. This is where they are both at fault — each one is an extremist in his point of view. It seems like during this time of rapid change in industry and labor development, all countries needed were mediators to balance out the extremist points of view.

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