In Forces of Production, David Noble examines the transformation of the machine-tool industry as the industry moved from reliance on skilled artisans to automation. Noble writes from a Marxist perspective, and his central argument is that management, in its decisions to automate, conspired against labor: the power that the skilled machinists wielded in the industry was intolerable to management. Noble fails to substantiate this claim, although his argument is impressive when he applies the Marxist concept of "de-skilling"—the use of technology to replace skilled labor—to the automation of the machine-tool industry. In automating, the industry moved to computer-based, digitalized "numerical control" (N/C) technology, rather than to artisan generated "record-playback" (R/P) technology.

Although both systems reduced reliance on skilled labor, Noble clearly prefers R/P, with its inherent acknowledgment of workers' skills: unlike N/C, its programs were produced not by engineers at their computers, but by skilled machinists, who recorded their own movements to "teach" machines to duplicate those movements. However, Noble's only evidence of conspiracy is that, although the two approaches were roughly equal in technical merit, management chose N/C. From this he concludes that automation is undertaken not because efficiency demands it or scientific advances allow it. But because it is a tool in the ceaseless war of capitalists against labor.

Which of the following best characterizes Forces of Production as it is described in the passage?

A comparison of two interpretations of how a particular industry evolved

An examination of the origin of a particular concept in industrial economics

A study that points out the weakness of a particular interpretation of an industrial phenomenon

A history of a particular industry from an ideological point of view

An attempt to relate an industrial phenomenon in one industry to a similar phenomenon in another industry


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