Freedom, commodification, and the alienation of labor in Adam Smith's wealth of nations
Despite the fact that even Karl Marx acknowledges a large debt to Smith for Smith's introduction of the concept of free enterprise as an economic antidote to feudalism, Smith has nonetheless stood accused of being antilabor. For Marx, a worker is defined by and identified with her work and productivity. It is Marx who initiates the idea that workers are often treated as just that – workers – not persons. Interestingly, as Werhane demonstrates, Smith recognizes this alienation in Book V of The Wealth of Nations where he points to the torpor of assembly lines and the negative effect of repetitive work. What is important for Smith, in counter-distinction to Marx, is that free enterprise itself – the ability to choose jobs, to get paid rather than be chattel or slave, to have one's productivity measured and valued, and to have the ability to quit, albeit easier said than done in a less-than-full-employment market – divides the worker as a person from her labor and gives her a sense of freedom rather than alienation.Original publication: Werhane, Patricia H. "Freedom, Commodification, and the Alienation of Labor in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations." Philosophical Forum (1991) 22: 383–398. Reprinted with permission.
Werhane, P. (2019)., Freedom, commodification, and the alienation of labor in Adam Smith's wealth of nations, in D. Bevan & R. W. Wolfe (eds.), Systems thinking and moral imagination, Dordrecht, Springer, pp. 281-296.
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