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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/8384/freedom-inequality-primitivism-and-the-division-of-labor/

Freedom, Inequality, Primitivism, and the Division of Labor

August 8, 2008 by


It is the fact of each person’s uniqueness, wrote Rothbard, that makes each and every man irreplaceable and that makes us care whether he lives or dies, whether he is happy or oppressed. And no unique individual can fully develop his powers in any direction without engaging in specialization. The primitive tribesman or peasant could have no time or resources available to pursue any particular interest to the full. A necessary condition for any sort of developed economy, the division of labor is also requisite to the development of any sort of civilized society. Without the opportunity to specialize in whatever he can do best, no person can develop his powers to the full; no man, then, could be fully human.



Ryan August 8, 2008 at 11:25 pm

Everyone should take the time to read this essay. Though fairly long, no other article makes the case for freedom and the inherently unequal nature of each person’s physical and mental endowments as concisely and poignantly, as well as serving to recognize the impact of both on the division of labor. Our current civilization is the product of individuals, using their unique skills and talents, to create new and better things, and any attempt to aggravate the ability of individuals to take advantage of their unique endowments can only serve to frustrate the further extension of the division of labor, while potentially causing an overall reduction in the standard of living for all. And, if the restrictions are especially grievous, a significant portion of the current population could perish.

Inquisitor August 9, 2008 at 9:35 am

This, and his smashing of Polanyi, are both great essays. How I loathe primitivists.

gene berman August 11, 2008 at 12:37 pm

It’s also important to understand that the idea of specialization in no wise necessitates that the “specializer” become an expert in the specialty.
Specialization occurs willy-nilly whenever anyone
engages in one sort of production (or even a few sorts) rather than another (or others). It’s a fact that many sorts of specialties can even be bound up in a general category “jobs that others don’t want to do”
and we couldn’t possibly have an “immigration problem” if there weren’t many quite willing to pay
immigrants to do what they didn’t want to do (or what some others wouldn’t be willing to do as well or as cheaply).

The plain, inescapable fact is that there’s a “place” for virtually everyone in a truly free economy–right down to the point of the “marginal” producer (he whose product cannot consistently “pay” for his own sustenance). And, the related and impossible-to-refute corollary of this recognition is that every impaiment of market freedom RAISES the level at which this “margin” occurs. In other words, “progressive” legislation serves broadly to: 1.) increase the costs of sustenance (either to themselves or to others) of those near the margin; and, 2.) to enlarge the actual numbers of those at the margin. Further, even the activities of those who might organize (“exploit”) the productivity of those near the margin to their own benefit as well as to those of the marginal themselves–are criminalized, with the utterly predictable consequences: idleness (and the resultant pathological lifestyles associated therewith) and cut-off of mobility and escape-routes.

Araglin August 11, 2008 at 11:41 pm


I felt the same way until I actually started reading Polanyi’s actual work, rather than Rothbard’s “review” of it. While the Great Transformation has its flaws, it is hardly the farrago of lies, fallacies, and rousseauian- wishfulfillments that Rothbard portrays it to be.

For a taste of why Polanyi just might have been on to something, I would challenge you to listen to this lecture by Allen Carlson :


I should say that I don’t endorse everything Carlson says in his talk, especially when he (wrongly, I think) portrays Mises as a proponent of crude, homo economicus-style utility maximization and “efficiency.”

He also, I think, exaggerates the supposed conflict between libertarian rights and genuine free markets, on the one hand, and traditionalism, families, robust communities, vibrant association life, etc. on the other. Instead, I think it’s important to see how (after Polanyi and Nisbet) the historical phenomenon that came to be called “capitalism,” “the Industrial Revolution,” or “individualism” was in large part the creation of the state. This shouldn’t bother believers in genuine free markets, however, since actually-existing capitalism has never conformed to the canons of libertarian principle. See generally, the oevre of Kevin Carson.


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