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Of The Principle Which Gives Occasion To The Division Of Labour


Of The Division Of Labour








The greatest improvements in the productive powers of labour, 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 labour. The effects of the division of labour, in the
general business of society, will be more easily understood, by
considering in what manner it operates in some particular manufactures.
It is commonly supposed to be carried furthest in some very trifling
ones; not perhaps that it really is carried further in them than in
others of more importance: but in those trifling manufactures which are
destined to supply the small wants of but a small number of people, the
whole number of workmen must necessarily be small; and those employed in
every different branch of the work can often be collected into the same
workhouse, and placed at once under the view of the spectator.

In those great manufactures, on the contrary, which are destined to
supply the great wants of the great body of the people, every different
branch of the work employs so great a number of workmen, that it is
impossible to collect them all into the same workhouse. We can seldom
see more, at one time, than those employed in one single branch. Though
in such manufactures, therefore, the work may really be divided into a
much greater number of parts, than in those of a more trifling nature,
the division is not near so obvious, and has accordingly been much less
observed.

To take an example, therefore, from a very trifling manufacture, but one
in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the
trade of a pin-maker: a workman not educated to this business (which the
division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), nor acquainted with
the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the
same division of labour has probably given occasion), 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 manufactories, 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 operations.

In every other art and manufacture, the effects of the division of
labour are similar to what they are in this very trifling one, though,
in many of them, the labour can neither be so much subdivided, nor
reduced to so great a simplicity of operation. The division of labour,
however, so far as it can be introduced, occasions, in every art,
a proportionable increase of the productive powers of labour. 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 carried 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. In every improved society, the farmer is generally nothing
but a farmer; the manufacturer, nothing but a manufacturer. The labour,
too, which is necessary to produce any one complete manufacture, is
almost always divided among a great number of hands. How many
different trades are employed in each branch of the linen and woollen
manufactures, from the growers of the flax and the wool, to the
bleachers and smoothers of the linen, or to the dyers and dressers of
the cloth! The nature of agriculture, indeed, does not admit of so many
subdivisions of labour, nor of so complete a separation of one business
from another, as manufactures. It is impossible to separate so entirely
the business of the grazier from that of the corn-farmer, as the trade
of the carpenter is commonly separated from that of the smith. The
spinner is almost always a distinct person from the weaver; but the
ploughman, the harrower, the sower of the seed, and the reaper of the
corn, are often the same. The occasions for those different sorts
of labour returning with the different seasons of the year, it is
impossible that one man should be constantly employed in any one of
them. This impossibility of making so complete and entire a separation
of all the different branches of labour employed in agriculture, is
perhaps the reason why the improvement of the productive powers of
labour, in this art, does not always keep pace with their improvement
in manufactures. The most opulent nations, indeed, generally excel all
their neighbours in agriculture as well as in manufactures; but they are
commonly more distinguished by their superiority in the latter than in
the former. Their lands are in general better cultivated, and having
more labour and expense bestowed upon them, produce more in proportion
to the extent and natural fertility of the ground. But this superiority
of produce is seldom much more than in proportion to the superiority of
labour and expense. In agriculture, the labour of the rich country is
not always much more productive than that of the poor; or, at least, it
is never so much more productive, as it commonly is in manufactures. The
corn of the rich country, therefore, will not always, in the same degree
of goodness, come cheaper to market than that of the poor. The corn of
Poland, in the same degree of goodness, is as cheap as that of France,
notwithstanding the superior opulence and improvement of the latter
country. The corn of France is, in the corn-provinces, fully as good,
and in most years nearly about the same price with the corn of England,
though, in opulence and improvement, France is perhaps inferior to
England. The corn-lands of England, however, are better cultivated than
those of France, and the corn-lands of France are said to be much
better cultivated than those of Poland. But though the poor country,
notwithstanding the inferiority of its cultivation, can, in some
measure, rival the rich in the cheapness and goodness of its corn, it
can pretend to no such competition in its manufactures, at least if
those manufactures suit the soil, climate, and situation, of the rich
country. The silks of France are better and cheaper than those of
England, because the silk manufacture, at least under the present high
duties upon the importation of raw silk, does not so well suit the
climate of England as that of France. But the hardware and the coarse
woollens of England are beyond all comparison superior to those of
France, and much cheaper, too, in the same degree of goodness. In Poland
there are said to be scarce any manufactures of any kind, a few of those
coarser household manufactures excepted, without which no country can
well subsist.

This great increase in the quantity of work, which, in consequence
of the division of labour, 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 labour, and enable one man to do
the work of many.

First, the improvement of the dexterity of the workmen, necessarily
increases the quantity of the work he can perform; and the division of
labour, by reducing every man's business to some one simple operation,
and by making this operation the sole employment of his life,
necessarily increases very much the dexterity of the workman. A common
smith, who, though accustomed to handle the hammer, has never been
used to make nails, if, upon some particular occasion, he is obliged
to attempt it, will scarce, I am assured, be able to make above two or
three hundred nails in a day, and those, too, very bad ones. A smith who
has been accustomed to make nails, but whose sole or principal business
has not been that of a nailer, can seldom, with his utmost diligence,
make more than eight hundred or a thousand nails in a day. I have seen
several boys, under twenty years of age, who had never exercised
any other trade but that of making nails, and who, when they exerted
themselves, could make, each of them, upwards of two thousand three
hundred nails in a day. The making of a nail, however, is by no means
one of the simplest operations. The same person blows the bellows, stirs
or mends the fire as there is occasion, heats the iron, and forges every
part of the nail: in forging the head, too, he is obliged to change his
tools. The different operations into which the making of a pin, or of a
metal button, is subdivided, are all of them much more simple, and the
dexterity of the person, of whose life it has been the sole business to
perform them, is usually much greater. The rapidity with which some of
the operations of those manufactures are performed, exceeds what the
human hand could, by those who had never seen them, be supposed capable
of acquiring.

Secondly, The advantage which is gained by saving the time commonly lost
in passing from one sort of work to another, is much greater than we
should at first view be apt to imagine it. It is impossible to pass
very quickly from one kind of work to another, that is carried on in a
different place, and with quite different tools. A country weaver, who
cultivates a small farm, must loose a good deal of time in passing from
his loom to the field, and from the field to his loom. When the two
trades can be carried on in the same workhouse, the loss of time is, no
doubt, much less. It is, even in this case, however, very considerable.
A man commonly saunters a little in turning his hand from one sort of
employment to another. When he first begins the new work, he is seldom
very keen and hearty; his mind, as they say, does not go to it, and for
some time he rather trifles than applies to good purpose. The habit of
sauntering, and of indolent careless application, which is naturally, or
rather necessarily, acquired by every country workman who is obliged to
change his work and his tools every half hour, and to apply his hand in
twenty different ways almost every day of his life, renders him almost
always slothful and lazy, and incapable of any vigorous application,
even on the most pressing occasions. Independent, therefore, of his
deficiency in point of dexterity, this cause alone must always reduce
considerably the quantity of work which he is capable of performing.

Thirdly, and lastly, everybody must be sensible how much labour is
facilitated and abridged by the application of proper machinery. It is
unnecessary to give any example. I shall only observe, therefore,
that the invention of all those machines by which labour is so much
facilitated and abridged, seems to have been originally owing to the
division of labour. Men are much more likely to discover easier and
readier methods of attaining any object, when the whole attention of
their minds is directed towards that single object, than when it is
dissipated among a great variety of things. But, in consequence of the
division of labour, the whole of every man's attention comes naturally
to be directed towards some one very simple object. It is naturally to
be expected, therefore, that some one or other of those who are employed
in each particular branch of labour should soon find out easier and
readier methods of performing their own particular work, whenever the
nature of it admits of such improvement. A great part of the machines
made use of in those manufactures in which labour is most subdivided,
were originally the invention of common workmen, who, being each of them
employed in some very simple operation, naturally turned their thoughts
towards finding out easier and readier methods of performing it. Whoever
has been much accustomed to visit such manufactures, must frequently
have been shewn very pretty machines, which were the inventions of such
workmen, in order to facilitate and quicken their own particular part
of the work. In the first fire engines {this was the current designation
for steam engines}, a boy was constantly employed to open and shut
alternately the communication between the boiler and the cylinder,
according as the piston either ascended or descended. One of those boys,
who loved to play with his companions, 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, and leave him at liberty to divert himself with his
play-fellows. One of the greatest improvements that has been made
upon this machine, since it was first invented, was in this manner the
discovery of a boy who wanted to save his own labour.

All the improvements in machinery, however, have by no means been
the inventions of those who had occasion to use the machines. Many
improvements have been made by the ingenuity of the makers of the
machines, when to make them became the business of a peculiar trade;
and some by that of those who are called philosophers, or men of
speculation, whose trade it is not to do any thing, but to observe
every thing, and who, upon that account, are often capable of combining
together the powers of the most distant and dissimilar objects in the
progress of society, philosophy or speculation becomes, like every other
employment, the principal or sole trade and occupation of a particular
class of citizens. Like every other employment, too, it is subdivided
into a great number of different branches, each of which affords
occupation to a peculiar tribe or class of philosophers; and this
subdivision of employment in philosophy, as well as in every other
business, improve dexterity, and saves time. Each individual becomes
more expert in his own peculiar branch, more work is done upon the
whole, and the quantity of science is considerably increased by it.

It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different
arts, in consequence of the division of labour, 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.

Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or daylabourer in
a civilized and thriving country, and you will perceive that the number
of people, of whose industry a part, though but a small part, has been
employed in procuring him this accommodation, exceeds all computation.
The woollen coat, for example, which covers the day-labourer, as coarse
and rough as it may appear, is the produce of the joint labour of a
great multitude of workmen. The shepherd, the sorter of the wool, the
wool-comber or carder, the dyer, the scribbler, the spinner, the weaver,
the fuller, the dresser, with many others, must all join their different
arts in order to complete even this homely production. How many
merchants and carriers, besides, must have been employed in transporting
the materials from some of those workmen to others who often live in a
very distant part of the country? How much commerce and navigation in
particular, how many ship-builders, sailors, sail-makers, rope-makers,
must have been employed in order to bring together the different drugs
made use of by the dyer, which often come from the remotest corners
of the world? What a variety of labour, too, is necessary in order to
produce the tools of the meanest of those workmen! To say nothing of
such complicated machines as the ship of the sailor, the mill of the
fuller, or even the loom of the weaver, let us consider only what
a variety of labour is requisite in order to form that very simple
machine, the shears with which the shepherd clips the wool. The miner,
the builder of the furnace for smelting the ore, the feller of
the timber, the burner of the charcoal to be made use of in the
smelting-house, the brickmaker, the bricklayer, the workmen who attend
the furnace, the millwright, the forger, the smith, must all of them
join their different arts in order to produce them. Were we to examine,
in the same manner, all the different parts of his dress and household
furniture, the coarse linen shirt which he wears next his skin, the
shoes which cover his feet, the bed which he lies on, and all the
different parts which compose it, the kitchen-grate at which he prepares
his victuals, the coals which he makes use of for that purpose, dug from
the bowels of the earth, and brought to him, perhaps, by a long sea and
a long land-carriage, all the other utensils of his kitchen, all the
furniture of his table, the knives and forks, the earthen or pewter
plates upon which he serves up and divides his victuals, the different
hands employed in preparing his bread and his beer, the glass window
which lets in the heat and the light, and keeps out the wind and the
rain, with all the knowledge and art requisite for preparing that
beautiful and happy invention, without which these northern parts of the
world could scarce have afforded a very comfortable habitation, together
with the tools of all the different workmen employed in producing those
different conveniencies; if we examine, I say, all these things, and
consider what a variety of labour is employed about each of them, we
shall be sensible that, without the assistance and co-operation of many
thousands, the very meanest person in a civilized country could not be
provided, even according to, what we very falsely imagine, the easy and
simple manner in which he is commonly accommodated. Compared, indeed,
with the more extravagant luxury of the great, his accommodation must no
doubt appear extremely simple and easy; and yet it may be true, 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 masters
of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages.





Next: Of The Principle Which Gives Occasion To The Division Of Labour




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