May 17, 2011

The Pin Factory

Without any specific reason, I decided to post some stuff that I find worth being on my blog.


In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, of the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations, frequently to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging, and unless very particular pains have been taken to render him otherwise, he is equally incapable of defending his country in war. The uniformity of his stationary life naturally corrupts the courage of his mind, and makes him regard with abhorrence the irregular, uncertain, and adventurous life of a soldier. It corrupts even the activity of his body, and renders him incapable of exerting his strength with vigour and perseverance in any other employment than that to which he has been bred. His dexterity at his own particular trade seems, in this manner, to be acquired at the expence of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilized society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.

Smith's reasoning is actually much deeper than the simplistic concept of "invisible hand" that is often stuffed into students' minds without ever having a look at the original work and its context.

MILTON FRIEDMAN 

JOE STIGLITZ
The reason the invisible hand often seemed invisible was that it wasn't there


There is a very good website from RAI (the italian public tv), which unfortunately I believe is virtually unknown. Here the two videos (in italian) about Adam Smith:

If you want to know more, there is an interesting little book in italian by prof. Alessandro Roncaglia, one of the authors of the RAI videos about economics. Book: Il Mito della Mano Invisibile

Finally let me leave you with a quotation that I find very relevant from Giuseppe Mazzini (italian), also because of Italy's 150th anniversary.

I miglioramenti materiali sono essenziali, e noi combatteremo per conquistarceli; ma non perché importi unicamente agli uomini d'essere ben nudriti e alloggiati; bensì perché la coscienza della vostra dignità e il vostro sviluppo morale non possono venirvi, finché vi state com'oggi in un continuo duello colla miseria! Voi lavorate dieci o dodici ore della giornata: come potete trovar tempo per educarvi?
...
Molti, troppi fra voi, sono poveri. Per i tre quarti almeno degli uomini che appartengono alla classe operaia, agricola o industriale, la vita è una lotta d'ogni giorno per conquistarsi i mezzi indispensabili all'esistenza. Essi lavorano colle loro braccia dieci, dodici, talvolta quattordici ore della giornata, e da questo assiduo, monotono, penoso lavoro, ritraggono appena il necessario alla vita fisica. Insegnare ad essi il dovere di progredire, parlar loro di vita intellettuale e morale, di diritti politici, di educazione, nell'ordine sociale attuale, è una vera ironia. Essi non hanno tempo né mezzi per progredire. Spossati, affranti, pressoché stupiditi da una vita spesa in un cerchio di poche operazioni meccaniche, essi v'imparano un muto, impotente, spesso ingiusto rancore contro la classe degli uomini, che l'impiegano; cercano l'oblio dei dolori presenti e dell'incertezza del domani negli stimoli delle forti bevande, e si coricano in luoghi ai quali è meglio adatto il nome di covile che non quello di stanza, per ridestarsi allo stesso esercizio delle forze fisiche.
È tristissima condizione e bisogna mutarla.
Voi siete uomini, e come tali avete facoltà, non solamente fisiche, ma intellettuali e morali, che è vostro dovere di sviluppare: dovete essere cittadini, e come tali, dovete esercitare, pel bene di tutti, diritti i quali richiedono un certo grado di educazione, una certa somma di tempo.
Dei Doveri dell'Uomo, 1860

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