Chapter 1b of Book 1 of the Wealth of Nations Simplified

What Causes the Increase in Productivity? Icon

January 29, 2020

5 This great increase in productivity from the division of labour is due to three circumstances=

  1. The increase of dexterity in every worker
  2. The time savings commonly lost in passing from one species of work to another
  3. The invention of many machines which=
  • facilitate and abridge labour, and
  • enable one man to do the work of many.

Increase in Skill

6 1. The improvement of the worker’s dexterity increases the amount of the work he can do.

The division of labour reduces every man’s business to some simple operation.

  • It makes this operation his sole life employment.
  • It necessarily increases his dexterity.

A common smith, who has never been used to make nails, will not be able to make over 300 bad quality nails in a day.

A smith who is used to making nails, but was not a nailer by trade, can seldom make more than 1,000 nails in a day with his utmost diligence.

I have seen boys under 20 years old who where nailers by trade. They could make over 2,300 nails a day individually when they exerted themselves.

The making of a nail is not a a simple operation. The same person=

  • blows the bellows,
  • stirs or mends the fire,
  • heats the iron, and
  • forges every part of the nail.

He changes his tools when forging the head.

The making of a pin or a metal button has much simpler divisions of labour.

  • A person who does them solely usually has much greater dexterity.

The speed of some of those manufacturing operations is beyond what ordinary human hands can do.

7 2. The time lost in passing from one sort of work to another is much greater than we think.

It is impossible to pass quickly from one work to another that is done=

  • in a different place, and
  • with different tools.

A country weaver in a small farm must lose a lot of time in passing=

  • from his loom to the field, and
  • from the field to his loom.

When the two trades are done in the same workhouse, the loss of time is much less. However, it is still very considerable.

A man commonly switches from one work to another in a relaxed way. When he first begins the new work he is seldom very keen and hearty. As they say, his mind does not go to it. He rather trifles for some time.

Every country worker naturally acquires the habit of relaxed and careless application if he=

  • changes his work and tools every half hour, and
  • works in 20 different ways every day.

It makes him=

  • slothful and lazy, and
  • incapable of any vigorous application.

Independent of his dexterity, this cause alone always considerably reduces the amount of work which he can do.

8 3. Proper machinery facilitates and abridges labour.

It is unnecessary to give any example. The invention of all those machines was caused by the division of labour. People are much more likely to discover easier methods of attaining any object, when their whole attention is directed towards that single object, than when it is dissipated among various things.

Because of the division of labour, a man’s entire attention comes directed towards some very simple object. He naturally finds easier methods of performing his work. Many of the machines, used in those manufactures with the most division of labour, were originally the inventions of common workers. Those workers were employed in some very simple operation. They naturally thought to find out easier methods of performing it.

There are very pretty machines, which were invented by such workers in order to facilitate and quicken their own work.

In the first steam engines, a boy was constantly employed to open and shut alternately the communication between the boiler and the cylinder, depending on the stroke of the piston. One of those boys loved to play with his companions. He observed that by tying a string from the handle of the valve which opened this communication, to another part of the machine, the valve would open and shut automatically, allowing him to be with his play-fellows. One of the greatest improvements on this early machine was from that boy who wanted to save his own labour.

9 However, not all the improvements in machinery were invented by those who used them.

Many improvements were from the ingenuity of the makers of the machines, when making them became their business. Some were made by philosophers or men of speculation. Their job is to do nothing except observe everything. They often can combine the powers of the most distant and dissimilar objects. In the progress of society, philosophy or speculation becomes, like every other employment, the principal trade and occupation of a particular class of citizens.

It is also subdivided into many branches. Each branch affords occupation to a peculiar class of philosophers. This subdivision improves dexterity and saves time. Each individual becomes more expert in his own branch More work is done on the whole. The amount of science is increased by it.

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