martedì 6 marzo 2018

Economisti inglesi online: 1. Adam Smith: The Wealth of Nations. - § 3: of the division of labour..

B. Home. §2. ↔︎ §4.
Testo online.
The Wealth of Nations.
Prima edizione originale: 1776.

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Internet Archive: Wealth of Nations.

§ 3.

Of the division of labour.




Testo: B. I Ch i.
THE greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is anywhere directed, or applied, seem to have been the effects of the division of labour.

The effects of the division of labour, in the general business
of society, will be more easily understood by considering in
what manner it operates in some particular manufactures. It
is commonly supposed to be carried furthest in some very
trifling ones; not perhaps that it really is carried further in
them than in others of more importance: but in those trifling
manufactures which are destined to supply the small wants of
but a small number of people, the whole number of workmen
must necessarily be small; and those employed in every different
branch of the work can often be collected into the same work
house, and placed at once under the view of the spectator. In
those great manufactures, on the contrary, which are destined
to supply the great wants of the great body of the people, every
different branch of the work employs so great a number of
workmen that it is impossible to collect them all into the same
workhouse. We can seldom see more, at one time, than those
employed in one single branch. Though in such manufactures,
therefore, the work may really be divided into a much greater
number of parts than in those of a more trifling nature, the
division is not near so obvious, and has accordingly been much
less observed.

To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manu
facture; but one in which the division of labour has been very


The Division of Labour 5

often taken notice of, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman
not educated to this business (which the division of labour has
rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with the use of the
machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same
division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce,
perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and
certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this
business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar
trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the
greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out
the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it,
a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head; to make the
head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on is
a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a
trade by itself to put them into the paper; and the important
business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about
eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are
all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man
will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a
small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were em
ployed, and where some of them consequently performed two
or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor,
and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the neces
sary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves,
make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There
are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling
size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them
upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day. Each person,
therefore, making a tenth part of forty-eight thousand pins,
might be considered as making four thousand eight hundred
pins in a day. But if they had all wrought separately and
independently, and without any of them having been educated
to this peculiar business, they certainly could not each of them
have made twenty, perhaps not one pin in a day; that is,
certainly, not the two hundred and fortieth, perhaps not the
four thousand eight hundredth part of what they are at present
capable of performing, in consequence of a proper division and
combination of their different operations.

In every other art and manufacture, the effects of the division
of labour are similar to what they are in this very trifling one;
though, in many of them, the labour can neither be so much
subdivided, nor reduced to so great a simplicity of operation.
The division of labour, however, so far as it can be introduced,

6 The Wealth of Nations

occasions, in every art, a proportionable increase of the produc
tive powers of labour. The separation of different trades and
employments from one another seems to have taken place in
consequence of this advantage. This separation, too, is generally
carried furthest in those countries which enjoy the highest
degree of industry and improvement; what is the work of one
man in a rude state of society being generally that of several
in an improved one. In every improved society, the farmer is
generally nothing but a farmer; the manufacturer, nothing but
a manufacturer. The labour, too, which is necessary to produce
any one complete manufacture is almost always divided among
a great number of hands. How many different trades are em
ployed in each branch of the linen and woollen manufactures
from the growers of the flax and the wool, to the bleachers and
smoothers of the linen, or to the dyers and dressers of the cloth !
The nature of agriculture, indeed, does not admit of so many
subdivisions of labour, nor of so complete a separation of one
business from another, as manufactures. It is impossible to
separate so entirely the business of the grazier from that of the
corn-farmer as the trade of the carpenter is commonly separated
from that of the smith. The spinner is almost always a distinct
person from the weaver; but the ploughman, the harrower, the
sower of the seed, and the reaper of the corn, are often the
same. The occasions for those different sorts of labour return
ing with the different seasons of the year, it is impossible that
one man should be constantly employed in any one of them.
This impossibility of making so complete and entire a separa
tion of all the different branches of labour employed in agri
culture is perhaps the reason why the improvement of the
productive powers of labour in this art does not always keep
pace with their improvement in manufactures. The most
opulent nations, indeed, generally excel all their neighbours in
agriculture as well as in manufactures ; but they are commonly
more distinguished by their superiority in the latter than in the
former. Their lands are in general better cultivated, and having
more labour and expense bestowed upon them, produce more
in proportion to the extent and natural fertility of the ground.
But this superiority of produce is seldom much more than in
proportion to the superiority of labour and expense. In agri
culture, the labour of the rich country is not always much more
productive than that of the poor; or, at least, it is never so
much more productive as it commonly is in manufactures. The
corn of the rich country, therefore, will not always, in the same

The Division of Labour 7

degree of goodness, come cheaper to market than that of the
poor. The corn of Poland, in the same degree of goodness,
is as cheap as that of France, notwithstanding the superior
opulence and improvement of the latter country. The corn of
France is, in the corn provinces, fully as good, and in most
years nearly about the same price with the corn of- England,
though, in opulence and improvement, France is perhaps in
ferior to England. The corn-lands of England, however, are
better cultivated than those of France, and the corn-lands of
France are said to be much better cultivated than those of
Poland. But though the poor country, notwithstanding the
inferiority of its cultivation, can, in some measure, rival the
rich in the cheapness and goodness of its corn, it can pretend
to no such competition in its manufactures; at least if those
manufactures suit the soil, climate, and situation of the rich
country. The silks of France are better and cheaper than those
of England, because the silk manufacture, at least under the
present high duties upon the importation of raw silk, does not
so well suit the climate of England as that of France. But the
hardware and the coarse woollens of England are beyond all
comparison superior to those of France, and much cheaper too
in the same degree of goodness. In Poland there are said to
be scarce any manufactures of any kind, a few of those coarser
household manufactures excepted, without which no country
can well subsist.

This great increase of the quantity of work which, in conse
quence of the division of labour, the same number of people are
capable of performing, is owing to three different circumstances;
first, to the increase of dexterity in every particular workman;
secondly, to the saving of the time which is commonly lost in
passing from one species of work to another; and lastly, to the
invention of a great number of machines which facilitate and
abridge labour, and enable one man to do the work of many.

First, the improvement of the dexterity of the workman
necessarily increases the quantity of the work he can perform;
and the division of labour, by reducing every man s business to
some one simple operation, and by making this operation the
sole employment of his life, necessarily increases very much the
dexterity of the workman. A common smith, who, though
accustomed to handle the hammer, has never been used to make
nails, if upon some particular occasion he is obliged to attempt
it, will scarce, I am assured, be able to make above two or three
hundred nails in a day, and those too very bad ones. A smith


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