Cooperation's Two Ways

Henry George
The Science of Political Economy

Book III, The Production of Wealth*

Chapter IX
Cooperation -- Its Two Ways

Showing The Two Ways of Cooperation

Cooperation is the union of individual powers in the attainment of common ends -- Its ways and their analogues: (1) the combination of effort; (2) the separation of effort -- Illustrations: of building houses, of joint-stock companies, etc. -- Of sailing a boat -- The principle shown in naval architecture -- The Erie Canal -- The baking of bread -- Production requires conscious thought -- The same principle in mental effort -- What is on the one side separation is on the other concentration -- Extent of concentration and specialization of work in modern civilization -- The principle of the machine -- Beginning and increase of division of labor -- Adam Smith's three heads -- A better analysis. 01

Cooperation means joint action; the union of efforts to a common end. In recent economic writings, the word has been so much used in a narrower sense that its meaning in political economy is given in the latest American dictionary (the Standard) as "a union of laborers or small capitalists for the purpose of advantageously manufacturing, buying and selling goods, and of pursuing other modes of mutual benefit; also, loosely, profit-sharing."


This is a degradation of a word that ought not to be acquiesced in, either in the interests of the English language or in the interests of political economy, and at the risk of being misunderstood by those who have become accustomed to associate it with trivial schemes of profit-sharing or namby-pamby "reconciliations" of capital and labor, I shall use it as an economic term in its full meaning -- understanding by cooperation that union of individual powers in the attainment of common ends which, as already said (Book I, Chapter V), is the means whereby the enormous increase of man's power that characterizes civilization is secured.


All increase in the productive power of man over that with which nature endows the individual comes from the cooperation of individuals. But there are two ways in which this cooperation may take place.


1. By the combination of effort. In this way, individuals may accomplish what exceeds the full power of the individual.


2. By the separation of effort. In this way, the individual may accomplish for more than one what does not require the full power of the individual.


This first way of cooperation may be styled the combination of labor, though perhaps the most distinctive term that could be used for it would be, the multiplication of labor, since the second way is well known by the term Adam Smith adopted for it, "the division of labor."


The one, the combination of labor, is analogous to the application in mechanics of that principle of the lever by which larger masses are moved in shorter distance or longer time, as in the crowbar. The other, the division of labor, is analogous to the application of that principle of the lever by which smaller masses are moved in longer distance or shorter time, as in the oar.


To illustrate: The first way of cooperation, the combination of labor, enables a number of men to remove a rock or to raise a log that would be too heavy for them separately. In this way men conjoin themselves, as it were, into one stronger man.


Or to take an example so common in the early days of American settlement that "log-rolling" has become a term for legislative combination: Tom, Dick, Harry and Jim are building near each other their rude houses in the clearings. Each hews his own trees, but the logs are too heavy for one man to get into place. So the four unite their efforts, first rolling one man's logs into place and then another's, until the logs of all four having been placed, the result is the same as if each had been enabled to concentrate into one time the force he could exert in four different times. Examples of the same principle in a more elaborate state of society are to be found in the formation of joint-stock companies -- the union of many small capitals to accomplish works such as the building of railroads, the construction of steamships, the erection of factories, etc., which require greater capitals than are possessed by one man.


But while great advantages result from the ability of individuals, by the combination of labor, to concentrate themselves as it were into one larger man, there are other times and other things in which an individual could accomplish more if he could divide himself, as it were, into a number of smaller men.


Thus in sailing a boat, one man of extraordinary strength would be equal to two men of half his strength only in such exertions as rowing, hoisting the heavier sails, or the like. In other things, two men of ordinary strength would be able to do far more than the one man of double strength, since where he would have to stop one thing to do another, they could do both things at once. Thus while he would have to anchor in order to rest, they could move on without stopping, one sailing the boat while the other slept. There was a King Alphonso of Castile, celebrated by Emerson, who wished that men could be concentrated nine into one. But the loss of available power that would thus result would soon be seen. How often now when beset by calls or duties which require, not so much strength as time, does the thought occur, "I wish I could divide myself into half a dozen." What the division of labor does, is to permit men, as it were, so to divide themselves, thus enormously increasing their total effectiveness.


To illustrate from the example used before: While at times Tom, Dick, Harry and Jim might each wish to move logs, at other times they might each need to get something from a village distant two days' journey. To satisfy this need individually would thus require two days' effort on the part of each. But if Tom alone goes, performing the errands for all, and the others each do half a day's work for him, the result is that all get at the expense of half a day's effort on the part of each what otherwise would have required two days' effort.


It is in this manner that the second way of cooperation, the separation of effort, or to continue the term adopted by Adam Smith and sanctioned by long usage, the division of labor, saves labor; that is to say, permits the accomplishment of equal results with less exertion, or of larger results with equal exertion. But out of this primary saving of exertion arise other savings of exertion.


Let me illustrate from a domain outside of political economy the general principle from which these gains proceed. Nothing, perhaps, better shows the flexibility of the human mind than naval architecture. Yet, from the rude canoe to the monster ironclad, in all the endless variety of form that men have given to vessels intended to be propelled through the water, one principle always obtains. We always make such vessels longer than they are broad. Why is it that we do so? It is that a vessel moving through the water has two main points of resistance to overcome -- (1) the displacement of the water at her bow, the resistance to which is shown by the ripple or wave that arises there, and (2) the replacement of the water at her stern, the resistance to which is shown by the suction or wake or "dead water" that she drags after her. In addition she must also overcome skin friction, shown, if one looks over the side of a vessel moving in smooth water, by the thin line of "dead water" or small ripples at her sides. But this, area for area, is slight as compared with the force required for displacement and replacement.


When the Erie Canal was first built its locks were constructed to accommodate boats of a certain length. The enlargement of these locks so as to admit boats of double that length is now going on, but is not yet entirely completed, so that to pass through the entire canal, boats of the shorter length must still be used. Each of these boats is usually pulled by two horses or mules. But whoever passes over the railroads that parallel this great waterway will notice that for much of the distance the boats are now run in pairs, the bow of one boat being fastened to the stern of its predecessor, and that instead of four horses for the two boats only three are used. What makes this economy possible is that the displacement for the two boats is mainly borne by the first boat, and the replacement for the two is mainly borne by the second boat. As the additional force required to move two boats instead of one is thus not much more than the additional skin friction, three animals suffice instead of four. If the boats were so constructed as to fit closely together the economy would be still greater.


Now, what we do in building a vessel is virtually to place one cross-section behind another cross-section so that the whole may be moved with no more resistance of displacement and replacement than would be required to move any one cross-section. The principle is the same as that which would prompt us if we had to carry two bodies through a wall, to carry the second through the hole that it would be necessary to make for the first, instead of making another hole. In addition to this the increase of length without increase of width which results virtually from the placing of the cross-sections behind each other, permits the graduation or sharpening of entrance and egress, thus allowing displacement and replacement to be effected in longer times or more gradually, and with lessened resistance; although the fact that resisting surface does not increase proportionately to increase in cubical capacity, enables the large vessel to outstrip the small vessel with the same proportionate expenditure of power, even if built on the same lines.


Now these principles, or rather this principle, for at bottom they are one, have their analogues in our making of things. Just as ten thousand tons can be transported in one vessel at much greater speed or with much less expenditure of power than in ten thousand vessels of one ton each, so can production be facilitated and economized by doing together things of like kind that are to be done.


Take for instance the baking of bread. To bake a loaf of bread requires the application of a certain amount of heat for a certain time to a certain amount of dough. To heat an oven to this point requires a certain expenditure of fuel; to maintain it for this time a certain other expenditure of fuel; and a certain expenditure of fuel is lost in the cooling of the oven after the bread is baked. To bake one loaf of bread in an ordinary oven thus requires a much greater relative expenditure of fuel than is required to bake at one time as many loaves as the oven will hold; and a larger oven will bake more loaves with a proportionately less expenditure of fuel than a smaller one, since the loss of heat that escapes from the work of baking is relatively less; and if one batch of bread is succeeded by another batch without suffering the oven to cool, another great relative saving is made. So that the concentration of the work of baking bread effects a great saving of labor in the item of fuel alone. And it is so with other items.


The saving thus made by the concentration of work arises not only from physical laws but from mental laws as well. All our doing or accomplishing of things, except those that may be referred to instinct, require in the first place the exertion of conscious thought. We see this in the child as it learns to walk, to talk, to read and write. We see this as adults when we begin to do things new to us, as to speak a foreign tongue, to write shorthand, or use a typewriter or a bicycle. But as we do the same things again and again, the mental exertion becomes less and less, until we come to do them automatically and without consciously thinking of how we do them.


Now the result of what regarded from the standpoint of the whole or industrial organism is the separation of effort or division of labor in the production of wealth, is that the individual does fewer things but does them oftener. It is thus from the standpoint of the individual the concentration of effort or of labor, and so from the standpoint of the things to be done it involves a similar concentration in place and time, thus securing the saving of effort or increased efficiency of exertion which, to recur to our illustration, comes from doing one thing behind another and on a large instead of on a small scale.


Thus, when instead of each individual or each family endeavoring to hunt, fish, obtain vegetables, build habitations and make clothing or tools, for the satisfaction of their own needs, some devote themselves to doing one thing and some to doing another of the things required for the satisfaction of the general needs, what is the separation of function from the standpoint of the all or industrial whole is the concentration of function in its units, and special trades and vocations are developed. And as the social organism grows by increase in numbers or the widening of the circle of exchanges, or both, this differentiation of function between its units tends constantly to increase, augmenting the efficiency of the productive powers of man to a degree to which we can assign no limits, and of which the marvelous increase in productive power which so strikingly characterizes our modern civilization affords but a faint forecast.


In civilized society where the division of labor has been carried to great lengths, we are so used to it that it is hard to realize how much we owe to it, and how utterly different our life would be without it. But as one tries to think to what we should be reduced without division of labor, he will see how large is the part it plays in the production of wealth -- so large, indeed, that without it man as we know him could not exist. Take for instance the providing of clothing. If each one had to make his own clothing from the raw material, he could get nothing better than leaves or skins. Even with all the advantages which the division of labor gives in the making of cloth, of needles, thread, buttons, etc., let any one unused to it set himself to the making of a garment. He will soon realize how hard it is to make the first one; how much easier and better the second is made than the first, the third than the second, and so on, until the process ceases to require thought and becomes automatic. When by means of the division of labor, the making of clothing is so far concentrated that the clothing for some dozens or scores of men can be made together, then individuals can devote themselves solely to the making of clothes, with greatly increased economy. As the concentration of clothes-making proceeds further, and the making of clothes for hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, and even hundreds of thousands of individuals is by the development of the ready-made clothing industry brought together, greater and greater economies become possible. Separate individuals devote themselves to the making of particular garments, and then to the making of particular parts or to particular processes. Instead of one tailor cutting out a garment with a pair of shears and then proceeding to make it in all its parts, cutters who do nothing else cut out scores of garments at once with great knives; the operations of basting, lining, buttonholing, etc., are performed by different people who devote themselves to doing these things alone, and whose work is aided by powerful machines, the use of which becomes possible with the larger scale and greater continuity of employment this concentration permits.


It is this concentration and specialization of work, with the division of labor, that brings about the development of labor-saving machinery of all kinds. The essential quality of the machine is its adaptation for the doing of certain special things. The human body considered as a machine is of all machines that which is best adapted for the doing of the greatest variety of things. But for doing only one thing, for the increase of quantity at the expense of variety, man is able to make machines which within a narrow range are far superior to the tools nature gives him. And the same principle governs the employment of forces other than the force he can command in his muscles. The utilization of winds and tides and currents and falling streams, of steam and of electricity, and chemical attractions and repulsions, is dependent on this concentration.


Thus the division of labor involves and proceeds from the concentration of effort for the satisfaction of desires. It begins when there are two individuals who cooperate; it increases and becomes productive of greater and greater economies with the increase of the number who thus cooperate.


Adam Smith, who begins his Wealth of Nations by considering how cooperation increases the productive powers of mankind, which he styles "the division of labor," refers to the economy which it produces under three heads:


1. The increased dexterity of workmen.


2. The saving of time by the greater continuity of employment.


3. The economy effected by the use of machinery.


But on a larger and fuller survey we may perhaps best analyze the advantages that result from the cooperation of labor as follows:


A. The combination of labor permits a number of individuals by direct union of their powers to accomplish what severally would be impossible.


B. The division of labor, with the concentration and cooperation it involves, permits the doing for many (or a larger number) of what may with a less expenditure be done by one (or by a smaller number):


1. By the saving of time and effort, as in the preceding illustration, where one man goes on a journey which to accomplish severally four men would have to make.


2. By utilizing the differing powers of individuals, as where those who excel in physical strength devote themselves to things requiring physical strength, while those who are inferior in physical strength do the things which require less physical strength, but for which they are otherwise just as capable, thus producing the same net results as would a bringing up of all to the highest level of physical strength; or where those who excel in other qualities do the things for which such qualities are best adapted, thus practically bringing up the level of the accomplishment of all to that of the highest qualities of each.


3. By increasing skill, consequent upon those who do a larger amount of that same kind of work being able to acquire facility in it.


4. By accumulating knowledge. The same tendency which increases the incommunicable knowledge called skill, also tends to increase the communicable knowledge properly so called, which consists in a knowing of the relations of things to other external things, and which constitutes a possession of the economic body or Greater Leviathan, transferable by writing or similar means.


5. By utilizing the advantages of doing things on a large scale instead of on a small scale, and of doing them successively instead of separately.


6. By utilizing the natural forces, and by the invention and use of machines and of improved processes, for the use of which the large scale of production gives advantages.

* No introduction or motto supplied for Book III in MS. H.G., Jr.