Fordism Before Fordism Was Cool

The Industrial Revolution was an important step for many countries during the late 18th century to 19th century, as it changed the way products were manufactured to what is now seen today.  In Adam Smith’s first chapter of, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, the division of labor is seen as a necessity for maximizing the efficiency of creating manufactured goods.  The way Smith describes the importance of the division of labor relates back to Hoffmann in, “European Modernity and Soviet Socialism”, as both emphasize the categorization of the branches of labor and making humans more efficient during their livelihood.  The division of labor sets apart the most powerful countries from rest of the world.  Smith argues that, “In agriculture, the labour of the rich country is not always much more productive than that of the poor…” ((An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith)) ,in his attempt to show that the taste and price of agricultural goods will never diverge too much between countries.  However, countries that are industrialized will be able to sell finished goods of higher quality and lower cost to their consumers.  This in return leads to a society with a higher standard of living, with more people being able to afford various finished products.  

Smith outlines three circumstances necessary for the division of labor to be effective in a state.  Dexterity relates to the time in which one can complete his job in.  If the job becomes more simple, then the worker will be able to complete this job at a faster rate.  The time between each process is the next important part of this outline.  If the time between each process is reduced, there will be more energy being spent on the development of the product rather than the transport.  Lastly, the development of machinery helps increase the overall speed of creating goods.  All three of these concepts are seen to be necessary to build an industrialized society.    

What group of people is this being written for?

Does Smith miss any points necessary for an industrialized society?

The Wealth of Nations and Essay on Population

An Inquiry into the Nature and Cause of the Wealth of Nations

Author: Adam Smith. A pioneering economist who developed revolutionary concepts associated with free market economic theory. He argued that rational people, acting in their own self-interest, could create en efficient economic system. He studied in England but was of Scottish decent. He was influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment.

Context: The work was published in 1776. It was published during the beginning of the industrial revolution in response to the outdated economic ideas of the time. The industrial revolution necessitated a new understanding of how a modern economic systems function.

Language: Very clear and concise; he argues his points with many examples and avoids using difficult rhetoric.

Audience: Intellectuals and Industry leaders of the day. Since the language is easily comprehended this work could also appeal to intellectually curious members of the middle and upper classes.

Intent: To explain how the division of labor leads to a boost in output. A team of workers, each of whom have one specific task, can produce a good far more efficiently than one man who must be versed in every phase of production.

Message: Industrialization and the division of labor provide societies with far more good than societies who are less developed and who do not capitalize on the advantages that the division of labor provides. The standard of living in industrialized societies is superior because goods are more numerous and attainable, so there is less disparity between the upper and lower class than in underdeveloped nations. 


First Essay on Population (1798)

Author: Thomas Malthus. He was a highly educated Englishmen who had strong ties with the Church of England. He was well versed in the humanities, but also in mathematics. He argued against many popular opinions of the time, which is perhaps why he first published the work under the alias Joseph Johnson.

Context: Industrialization had spurred rapid population growth, especially in urban areas. Many Enlightenment thinkers who believed that society would continue to constantly improve without any hitches surrounded him. Some of his beliefs were in contrast with those of his friends, so he sought to cast doubt on their beliefs by pointing disconcerting population trends.

Language: Eloquent and declamatory. Does a good job hammering his point.

Audience: Targeted towards the intellectuals of the society. He originally wrote this piece in rebuttal to some of his enlightenment-influenced colleagues and friends. Although the text has many repercussions for everyday people, I doubt they composed much of the audience.

Intent: To prove that human society can never be perfected because if it is proven that it cannot be perfected in one particular area, then those who belief it can be perfected as a whole will be proven wrong.

Message: Humanity is trapped in a vicious cycle that coincides with food production and the population. When the population of a particular area reaches a certain point it will usher in a period of misery or vice because the demand for food exceeds the supply. Eventually the situation will become tolerable once again as food production is bolstered through human innovation, but this cycle will once again repeat itself as populations continue to grow past a certain threshold. This reality is unavoidable as it is inseparable form human nature. Thus humanity can never achieve perfection.

The Wealth of Nations and the Division of Labor

Adam Smith writes about the division of labor and its essential role in industry and innovation. He uses the example of a pin-maker with little experience, who may by himself manufacture only one pin in a day. There are as many as eighteen distinct steps that go into making a single pin; these are tasks that if all executed by one man take much longer to master and much longer to carry out. If these eighteen tasks are delegated to different pairs of hands however, each pair carrying out only two or three of these eighteen steps, the production of pins will skyrocket. This is also true for any industry. Even the simplest products take many steps and many different processes to manufacture. These individual tasks require varying levels of skill. When labor is divided among many different laborers there is less time wasted sauntering from task to task. A worker may concentrate on one task throughout the work day without switching his attention to another distinct task and having to adapt to that task after performing the previous one.

While it is natural for a person to saunter between tasks and to initially perform at a lower rate when starting a new task, it is also natural to innovate to improve efficiency. Smith uses the example of the boy responsible for opening and shutting alternately the communication between the boiler and the cylinder on the first fire engines. The boy naturally preferred to spend time with his friends over being constantly employed on the fire engine, so he invented a device to replace his job on the engine: 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 without his assistance” thereby allowing him to “divert himself with his play-fellows.” Smith notes that the operators of machines are not the only drivers of innovation; the makers of machines and observers are also major drivers of innovation and improvements in efficiency. There are those whose only occupation is to observe and create improvements to existing machines and processes.

The division of labor in individual industries is an important device for efficiency, but specialization is also essential for innovation and efficiency. Smith points out all the different processes and industries that go into making something as simple as a wool coat: ship-builders, sail-makers, and rope-makers were needed to facilitate the ability to transport goods from place to place; tool-makers made the shears that were used to get the wool from the sheep and the shepherd raised that sheep. There are countless other professions and specialties that go into the seemingly simple process of making a wool coat. This is true for any other manufactured good as well.