Chapter 3: The Opulence from the Division of Labour

Translators Note: The beginnings of the Wealth of Nations is from this Chapter to Part 4. We can conclude that the rest is to form his work on Jurisprudence

In an uncivilized nation where labour is undivided, everything is provided for by the natural needs of mankind.

It is the division of labour which increases a country's opulence.


Chapter 4: How the Division of Labour multiplies Productivity

We shall next show how this division of labour multiplies productivity, or, which is the same thing, how opulence arises from it.

When labour is thus divided, and so much done by one man in proportion, the surplus above their maintenance is considerable.

  • Through this:
  • The price of labour does not determine society's opulence.
  • A rich nation, when its manufactures are greatly improved, may have an advantage over a poor one by underselling it.
  • We must not judge of the dearness of labour by the money or coin paid for it2.
  • Therefore, coin cannot be a proper estimate.
  • By proper cultivation, a farmer can guarantee an increase.
  • Commodities must therefore multiply in greater proportion than gold and silver.
  • But again, the amount of work done by the division of labour is much increased by the three factors:

    1. The increase of dexterity
      • When any kind of labour is reduced to a simple operation, a frequency of action insensibly fits men to a dexterity in accomplishing it.
        • A country smith not accustomed to make nails will work very hard for 300 very bad nails in a day.
        • But a boy used to it will easily make 2,000 nails of better quality.
      • Yet the improvement of dexterity in this very complex manufacture can never be equal to that in others.
        • A nail-maker changes postures, blows the bellows, changes tools, etc.
        • Therefore, the quantity produced cannot be so great as in manufactures of pins and buttons, where the work is reduced to simple operations.
    2. The saving of time lost in passing from one species of labour to another.
      • There is always some time lost in passing from one kind of labour to another, even when they are pretty much connected.
        • When a person has been reading he must rest a little before he begins to write.
      • This is still more the case with the country weaver, who is has a little farm.
        • He must saunter a little when he goes from one to the other.
      • This in general is the case with the country labourers.
      • They are always the greatest saunterers.
      • The country employments of sowing, reaping, threshing being so different,
      • They naturally acquire a habit of indolence, and are seldom very dexterous.
      • By fixing every man to his own operation, [167] and preventing the shifting from one piece of labour to another, the quantity of work must be greatly increased.
    3. The invention of machinery
      • Two men and three horses will do more in a day with the plough than 20 men without it.
      • The miller and his servant will do more with the water miln than a dozen with the hand miln, though it, too, is a machine.
      • The division of labour caused the invention of machines.
      • If a man’s business in life is the performance of two or three things, the bent of his mind will be to find out the cleverest way of doing it.
      • But when the force of his mind is divided it cannot be expected that he should be so successful.
      • We have not, nor cannot have, any complete history of the invention of machines, because most of them:
        • are initially imperfect, and
        • receive gradual improvements from those who use them.
      • It was probably a farmer who made the original plough, though the improvements might be owing to some other.
      • Some miserable slave who had perhaps been employed for a long time in grinding corn between two stones, probably first found out the method of supporting the upper stone by a spindle.
      • A miln-wright perhaps found out the way of turning the spindle with the hand.
        • But a philosopher contrived that the outer wheel should go by water.
        • A philosopher's business is to do nothing, but observe everything. [168]
      • They must have extensive views of things, who, as in this case, bring in the assistance of new powers not formerly applied.
      • Whether he was an artisan, or whatever he was who first executed this, he must have been a philosopher.
      • Steam engines, wind and water-milns were the invention of philosophers.
        • Their dexterity too is increased by a division of labour.
      • They are all divide according to the different branches:
        • mechanical
        • moral
        • political
        • chemical philosophers.


    Chapter 5: What Causes the Division of Labour

    If anyone, in a nation of hunters, can make bows and arrows better than his neighbours, he will at first make presents of them.

    This disposition to barter is not founded on different genius and talents.

  • Genius is more the effect of the division of labour than the latter is of it.
  • There is no need for such different endowments since everyone has this natural disposition to truck and barter, by which he provides for himself.
  • In other animals of the same species, we find a much greater difference than between the philosopher and porter, antecedent to custom.
  • It is quite otherwise with humans.
  • Thus, genius is not the foundation of this disposition to barter which is the cause of the division of labour.

  • A person who asserts anything false about the moon would still feel a kind of uneasiness in being contradicted.
  • We should then mainly cultivate the power of persuasion.
  • Since a whole life is spent in the exercise of it, a ready method of bargaining with each other must be attained.
  • Sometimes, animals seem to act in concert.
  • When monkeys rob a garden, they throw the fruit from one to another, until they deposit it in the hoard.

  • Chapter 6: The Division Of Labour Must Be Proportional To The Extent Of Commerce

    The division of labour must always be proportioned to the extent of commerce1

  • The division of labour always becomes more  perfect by the easy method of transportation in a country.
  • Thus, the division of labour is the great cause of the increase of public opulence.

    We next consider:

    1. What circumstances regulate the price of commodities
    2. Money in two different views, first as the measure of value, and then as the instrument of commerce
    3. The history of commerce
      1. We shall notice the causes of the slow progress of opulence in ancient and modern times.
      2. These causes are affect either agriculture or arts and manufactures
    4. The effects of a commercial spirit, on the government, temper, and manners of a people, whether good or bad, and the proper remedies.


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    Next: Section 2, Chapter 3