The New Palgrave Dictionary of Economics

2018 Edition
| Editors: Macmillan Publishers Ltd


  • A. L. Friedman
Reference work entry


The proposition that there is a long run tendency for workers to become de-skilled as part of the basic operation of capitalist economies can be found in Marx (1867). The change in capitalist stages from Cooperation to Manufacture was distinguished by the division of labour under individual capitalists. The effect of this on workers is that they are ordered to specialize in a narrow range of tasks. The worker is transformed from an all-round craftsman into what Marx calls a detail worker. His detail dexterity becomes overexercised, and he is thereby turned into a ‘crippled monstrosity’. The de-skilling process continues with the next stage of capitalism, Modern Industry. Under Manufacture, the traditional skills of workers are still required collectively even if individual workers may lose the ability to perform all the tasks required in a single trade. With Modern Industry the heart of the labour process becomes the machine. Workers become appendages of the machines. Their tasks concern feeding, minding and maintaining machines rather than parts of a skilled labour process.

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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • A. L. Friedman
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