Chapter 4 of Part 2 Section 2

How the Division of Labour multiplies Productivity

September 27, 2015

How does this division of labour multiply productivity, or, which is the same thing, how does opulence arise from it?

The effect of the division of labour can be seen in some manufactures. If all the parts of a pin were made by one man, it would take him a whole year to make one pin.

He would=

  • dig the ore,
  • smelt it, and
  • split the wire.

Therefore, this pin must be sold at the expense of his maintenance for that time.

  • It would cost at least be 6 pounds for a pin.
  • If the labour is so far divided that the wire is ready-made, he will not make above 20 per day.
  • If wages were 10 pence, the pin would be a half-penny.

The pin-maker divides the labour among many persons.

  • The cutting, pointing, heading, and gilding are all separate professions.
  • Two or three are employed in making the head.
  • One or two in putting it on, to the putting [164] them in the paper, etc, being 18 in all.

By this division every one can make 2,000 a day very easily. The same is the case in the linen and woollen manufactures.

However, some arts will not admit of this division. Therefore they cannot keep pace with other manufactures and arts.

Examples are farming and grazing.

  • This is entirely owing to the seasons.
  • In each season, a man can only be for a short time employed in any one operation.
  • In countries where the seasons do not make such alterations it is otherwise.
    • In France the corn is better and cheaper than in England.

But our toys, which have no dependence on the climate, and in which labour can be divided, are far superior to those of France. When labour is thus divided, and so much done by one man in proportion, the surplus above their maintenance is considerable.

Each person can exchange his surplus for a fourth5 of what he could have done alone. Through this=

  • the commodity becomes far cheaper, and
  • the labour becomes dearer.

The price of labour does not determine society’s opulence. Society’s opulence is only determined by it when a little labour can procure abundance. A rich nation, when its manufactures are greatly improved, may have an advantage over a poor one by underselling it. The cotton and other commodities from China would undersell any made with us, if it were not for=

  • the long carriage, and
  • other taxes laid on them1.

We must not judge of the dearness of labour by the money or coin paid for it2. One penny in some places will buy as much as 18 pence in others. In Mughal India, a day’s wages are only 2 pence. Labour there is better rewarded than in some of our sugar islands, where men are almost starving with 4 or 5 shillings a day.

Therefore, coin cannot be a proper estimate. Human labour be employed to multiply commodities and metal money. But the chance of success is not equal.

By proper cultivation, a farmer can guarantee an increase. But the miner may work again and again without success. 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, 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.

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.