INTRODUCTION AND PLAN OF THE WORK.
The annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies
it with all the necessaries and conveniencies of life which it annually
consumes, and which consist always either in the immediate produce
of that labour, or in what is purchased with that produce from other
According, therefore, as this produce, or what is purchased with it,
bears a greater or smaller proportion to the number of those who are
to consume it, the nation will be better or worse supplied with all the
necessaries and conveniencies for which it has occasion.
But this proportion must in every nation be regulated by two different
circumstances: first, by the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which
its labour is generally applied; and, secondly, by the proportion
between the number of those who are employed in useful labour, and that
of those who are not so employed. Whatever be the soil, climate,
or extent of territory of any particular nation, the abundance or
scantiness of its annual supply must, in that particular situation,
depend upon those two circumstances.
The abundance or scantiness of this supply, too, seems to depend more
upon the former of those two circumstances than upon the latter. Among
the savage nations of hunters and fishers, every individual who is able
to work is more or less employed in useful labour, and endeavours to
provide, as well as he can, the necessaries and conveniencies of life,
for himself, and such of his family or tribe as are either too old, or
too young, or too infirm, to go a-hunting and fishing. Such nations,
however, are so miserably poor, that, from mere want, they are
frequently reduced, or at least think themselves reduced, to the
necessity sometimes of directly destroying, and sometimes of abandoning
their infants, their old people, and those afflicted with lingering
diseases, to perish with hunger, or to be devoured by wild beasts. Among
civilized and thriving nations, on the contrary, though a great number
of people do not labour at all, many of whom consume the produce of ten
times, frequently of a hundred times, more labour than the greater part
of those who work; yet the produce of the whole labour of the society is
so great, that all are often abundantly supplied; and a workman, even of
the lowest and poorest order, if he is frugal and industrious, may enjoy
a greater share of the necessaries and conveniencies of life than it is
possible for any savage to acquire.
The causes of this improvement in the productive powers of labour, and
the order according to which its produce is naturally distributed among
the different ranks and conditions of men in the society, make the
subject of the first book of this Inquiry.
Whatever be the actual state of the skill, dexterity, and judgment, with
which labour is applied in any nation, the abundance or scantiness of
its annual supply must depend, during the continuance of that state,
upon the proportion between the number of those who are annually
employed in useful labour, and that of those who are not so employed.
The number of useful and productive labourers, it will hereafter appear,
is everywhere in proportion to the quantity of capital stock which is
employed in setting them to work, and to the particular way in which
it is so employed. The second book, therefore, treats of the nature of
capital stock, of the manner in which it is gradually accumulated,
and of the different quantities of labour which it puts into motion,
according to the different ways in which it is employed.
Nations tolerably well advanced as to skill, dexterity, and judgment,
in the application of labour, have followed very different plans in the
general conduct or direction of it; and those plans have not all been
equally favourable to the greatness of its produce. The policy of some
nations has given extraordinary encouragement to the industry of the
country; that of others to the industry of towns. Scarce any nation has
dealt equally and impartially with every sort of industry. Since the
down-fall of the Roman empire, the policy of Europe has been more
favourable to arts, manufactures, and commerce, the industry of towns,
than to agriculture, the Industry of the country. The circumstances
which seem to have introduced and established this policy are explained
in the third book.