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Source: Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776
Accessed online on 05/28/2020 at

The Wealth of Nations (1776)
Adam Smith

An Epitome Book I, Chapter 1. Of the Division of Labor: THE greatest improvement in
the productive powers of labor, 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 labor.

[…] To take an example, therefore, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated
to this business, nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it, 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 factories, 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 employed, 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 necessary 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

[…] The division of labor, so far as it can be introduced, occasions, in every art, a
proportionable increase of the productive powers of labor. 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 called 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.


[…] This great increase of the quantity of work which, in consequence of the division of
labor, 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 labor, and
enable one man to do the work of many….It is the great multiplication of the productions of all
the different arts, in consequence of the division of labor, which occasions, in a well-governed
society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people. Every
workman has a great quantity of his own work to dispose of beyond what he himself has
occasion for; and every other workman being exactly in the same situation, he is enabled to
exchange a great quantity of his own goods for a great quantity, or, what comes to the same
thing, for the price of a great quantity of theirs. He supplies them abundantly with what they
have occasion for, and they accommodate him as amply with what he has occasion for, and a
general plenty diffuses itself through all the different ranks of the society.

Book I, Chapter 2. Of the Principle which gives occasion to the Division of
Labor: THIS division of labor, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the
effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that universal opulence to which it
gives occasion. It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual consequence of a certain
propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck,
barter, and exchange one thing for another.

[…] Man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for
him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest
their self-love in his favor, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what
he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give
me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such
offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater art of those good
offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or
the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. As it is by treaty,
by barter, and by purchase that we obtain from one another the greater part of those mutual good
offices which we stand in need of, so it is this same trucking disposition which originally gives
occasion to the division of labor. In a tribe of hunters or shepherds a particular person makes
bows and arrows, for example, with more readiness and dexterity than any other. He frequently
exchanges them for cattle or for venison with his companions; and he finds at last that he can in
this manner get more cattle and venison than if he himself went to the field to catch them. From a
regard to his own interest, therefore, the making of bows and arrows grows to be his chief
business, and he becomes a sort of armorer, etc.

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