On Division of Labor

Smith states that the division of labor significantly improves the productive power in manufacture through three ways: the increased dexterity of workman by repetition, the reduced time brought by the quick transition between workers, and the efficiency brought by the machines. These workers, who perform repetitive and tedious work in order to make accommodations, are only a small part of labor in the industry world. A large quantity and variety of labor is needed in every chain of the manufacturing industry, from collecting the raw material to transporting goods from one place to another. As the industry thrives, more jobs are provided and the economics improves. Therefore it seems that a large supply of labor is good for a country to flourish industrially. In Thomas Malthus’ “Essay on Population,” however, oversize population, which means the people residing on the land exceed the land’s ability to feed them, eventually results in oversupply in the labor market, and the poor will have to live a harder life because the price of labor decrease. “The labourer therefore must work harder to earn the same as he did before,” as Malthus clearly stated in the essay. When putting the two essays together, a question is raised: if the labor lives a worse life while the economy is thriving, who lives a better life? Obviously, the employer.

Is Adam Smith intentionally deviating from the fact that employers are exploiting the labors? He discusses the great efficiency and employment brought by the industrialization, and the peasants actually live a better life than before, in contrast to what Malthus has argued, because, “perhaps, that the accommodation of an European prince does not always so much exceed that of an industrious and frugal peasant, as the accommodation of the latter exceeds that of many an African king, the absolute master of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages.”

One thought on “On Division of Labor

  1. I feel Smith knows that the laborers are getting screwed to an extent, but his argument hinges on the idea of a country’s overall wellbeing and not necessarily the peoples. He realizes that this method (capitalism) is the best when it comes to increasing economic productivity, so he is able to take the good with the bad.

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