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View Diary: What did Adam Smith really have to say... (105 comments)

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  •  That phrase, "continue the race of labourers"... (7+ / 0-)

    ...leaps out at me.

    In Smith's time class mobility was not expected. If you were born into a "race of labourers" you were a member for life, and so were your children.

    In addition, the profit class needed to value labor because profit could not be made without actual physical labor being part of the system. To disparage labor was to put a psychological toll on a group of people you relied on for your living. (Smith seemed to be quite insightful in realizing they failed to have "tolerable knowledge" of this). But even if the the profitieers and landlords didn't recognize the value of the laboring class, the laboring class itself had a huge psychological reason to view themselves as valuable: they had no other choice but to be laborers. It was their legacy, and there were no other options.

    Today we do have a certain amount of class mobility. There's far less likelihood of that mobility occurring than conventional wisdom would lead one to believe, but it can happen, you're not locked in like you would have been in the 18th century.

    That leads us to two odd modern developments:

    1) Labor is viewed as unnecessary. Vast sums of money are made magically without physical labor. And the most revered (read: rich) members of society make their riches in this fashion. And many members of the upper middle class still do labor, but not of the physical kind.

    2) Being a member of the working class is viewed as  a choice. You're no longer expected to be what your father was. You're expected to "be anything you want to be." If you "choose" to be part of an "underclass" -- because you don't have enough ambition, or because you didn't work hard enough in school, etc. -- then this is because of you own personal failings, not because of circumstances. Class mobility gives cover to the delusion that we live in a meritocracy and the reward system is perfect.

    Both of those give society the luxury to disparage labor: "You're not locked into this, and we don't really need you anyway." The first part is somewhat true, but much less true than most people think. The second part is not true at all -- it's merely an illusion our current society holds -- but even members of the working class will buy into it.

    In closing, it's really nice to see a diary that isn't just reactionary screeching.

    I'm a concert pianist with a double doctorate... AND YOU CAN BE TOO!

    by kenlac on Thu Mar 03, 2011 at 07:45:21 AM PST

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