Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Division of labour - the rise and fall of The West


As Adam Smith first made clear, continually-increasing division of labour is the key to continually-increasing productivity - DoL is necessary but not sufficient to modernity.

(Division of Labour can also be seen as cognitive specialization)

I am continually struck by the way in which this key to the rise of the West is also the key to its collapse.


The West began with the primary division of 'labour' between Church and State - and the process has proceeded incrementally ever since.

Presumably, at some point there was an optimal division of labour - which had the best balance between efficiency of units and cohesion between units - but that point has long ago been passed as the number of units has expanded exponentially, and now there is neither efficiency nor cohesion - as can be seen most unambiguously in science.


Consider the current world crisis. It is not going to be solved because there is nobody - no powerful individual or group - who has it as their primary job to solve it.

Everybody's job is to solve something smaller - and the small thing can most easily be solved at the cost of the big thing.

Democratic governments do not want to solve the crisis as much as they want to get elected.

The media do not want to solve the crisis as much as they want to attract and hold mass public attention.

Finance people do not want to solve the crisis as much as they want to make money.

Trades unions do not want to solve the crisis as much as they want to enhance the pay and conditions of their members.

And so on all the way through every institution.

(Any leader which did try to make it their job to solve the crisis would by doing so fail at their primary job, and would be ousted by those who did the primary job.)


When labour is divided from top to bottom, government is not just difficult - it is impossible.

World government is nobody's job - in nations that are democracies government is not even the job of 'the government'.

Of course, some people believe that democracy is the solution, not the problem - they believe that the magic of mass voting is somehow able to harmonize specialized interests. But obviously it doesn't and cannot - why on earth should it?


To be specific, there is no way that the product of diverse cognitive specialization can be synthesized, since each specialization is incommensurable with the others - has different data, rules, language, objectives - you cannot synthesize science and the law, or media and the military, or the economy and the environment.

All that can be done is to put one above the other hierarchically and practice the lower in terms of the higher - and the same is necessary at a societal level.

The division between Church and State was a mistake - when they divided one or the other must rule, or else there will be no integration and society will tear itself apart - since short-term efficiency of the parts will tend to evolve at the expense of long-term efficiency of the whole.

(It is always more immediately expedient for itself for bureaucracy to expand a bit more - even as each incremental expansion is a step closer to killing the host society. Mutatis mutandis for government vote-buying, legal regulation, taxes, trades unions, sceintific hype, media distortions...)


The world crisis can be 'solved' - presumably in many separate pieces - only as the division of labour is reversed (as modernity is reversed), and all human activities are again re-integrated in hierarchies under a single principle - because only then will there be a ruling principle that will have an interest in solving the crisis.

The ruling principle may not solve the crisis, but until there is a ruling principle the crisis cannot be solved. (Necessary but not sufficient.)


But... the resulting society/ societies will be much less efficient than modernity at its peak, when labour was optimally divided yet disintegration had not yet happened (probably held-off by sheer inertia).

Because the resulting society/ ies will be much less efficient, there will be a 'mass extinction' since the vastly over-expanded and still expanding human species will be unable to support itself (which would happen anyway without further economic growth - but when the world economy declines as a consequence of re-integration then it will be that much more severe).

The implication seems to be that society cannot cohere enough to solve the long-term crisis without very substantial de-differentiation and hierarchical reorganization - which itself must reduce productivity and itself lead to an immediate short term crisis.

As usual/ always things can only get better (or survive at all) via getting worse; and the longer postponed the worse, the worse will have to be - but eventually the worst will happen anyway, want it or not.