The Wealth of Nations: Volume 2

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Overview


  First published in 1776, the year in which the American Revolution officially began, Smith's Wealth of Nations sparked a revolution of its own. In it Smith analyzes the major elements of political economy, from market pricing and the division of labor to monetary, tax, trade, and other government policies that affect economic behavior. Throughout he offers seminal arguments for free trade, free markets, and limited government.

Criticizing mercantilists who sought to use the state to increase their nations' supply of precious metals, Smith points out that a nation's wealth should be measured by the well-being of its people. Prosperity in turn requires voluntary exchange of goods in a peaceful, well-ordered market. How to establish and maintain such markets? For Smith the answer lay in man's social instincts, which government may encourage by upholding social standards of decency, honesty, and virtue, but which government undermines when it unduly interferes with the intrinsically private functions of production and exchange.

The first truly scientific argument for the principles of political economy.

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Meet the Author

Adam Smith was born in a small village in Kirkcaldy, Scotland in 1723. He entered the University of Glasgow at age fourteen, and later attended Balliol College at Oxford. After lecturing for a period, he held several teaching positions at Glasgow University. His greatest achievement was writing The Wealth of Nations (1776), a five-book series that sought to expose the true causes of prosperity, and installed him as the father of contemporary economic thought. He died in Edinburgh on July 19, 1790.
From the Hardcover edition.
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CHAPTER I
OF THE DIVISION OF LABOUR
The greatest improvement in the productive powers of labour, and the greater part of the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which it is any where 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 the pin-maker; a workman noteducated 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 expence 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 expence. 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 country. The silks of France are better and cheaper than those of England, because the silk manufacture, at least under the high duties upon the importation of raw silk, does not so well suit the climate of England as that of France. But the hard-ware 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 of 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 workman 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 lose 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, every body 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, wherever 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 inventions 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, 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, improves 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.
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Table of Contents


Introduction and Plan of the Work 10

BOOK I.
Of the Causes of Improvement in the productive Powers of Labour, and of the Order according to which its Produce is naturally distributed among the different Ranks of the People

CHAPTER I
Of the Division of Labour 13

CHAPTER II
Of the Principle which gives occasion to the Division of Labour 25

CHAPTER III
That the Division of Labour is limited by the Extent of the Market 31

CHAPTER IV
Of the Origin and Use of Money 37

CHAPTER V
Of the real and nominal Price of Commodities, or of their Price in Labour, and their Price in Money 47

CHAPTER VI
Of the component Parts of the Price of Commodities 65

CHAPTER VII
Of the natural and market Price of Commodities 72

CHAPTER VIII
Of the Wages of Labour 82

CHAPTER IX
Of the Profits of Stock 105

CHAPTER X
Of Wages and Profit in the different Employments of Labour and Stock 116

Part I. Inequalities arising from the Nature of the Employments themselves 116

Part II. Inequalities occasioned by the Policy of Europe 135

CHAPTER XI
Of the Rent of Land 160

Part I. Of the Produce of Land which always affords Rent 162

Part II. Of the Produce of Land which sometimes does, and sometimes does not, afford Rent 178

Part III. Of the Variations in the Proportion between the respective Values of that Sort of Produce which always affords Rent, and of that which sometimes does, and sometimes does not, afford Rent 193

Digression concerning the Variations in the Value of Silver during the Course of the Four last Centuries

First Period 195

Second Period 210

Third Period 211

Variations in the Proportion between the respective Values of Gold and Silver 228

Grounds of the Suspicion that the Value of Silver still continues to decrease 234

Different Effects of the Progress of Improvement upon the real Price of three different Sorts of rude Produce 234

First Sort 235

Second Sort 237

Third Sort 246

Conclusion of the Digression concerning the Variations in the Value of Silver 255

Effects of the Progress of Improvement upon the real Price of Manufactures 260

Conclusion of the Chapter 264

BOOK II.

Of the Nature, Accumulation, and Employment of Stock

INTRODUCTION 276

CHAPTER I
Of the Division of Stock 279

CHAPTER II
Of Money considered as a particular Branch of the general Stock of the Society, or of the Expence of maintaining the National Capital 286

CHAPTER III
Of the Accumulation of Capital, or of productive and unproductive Labour 330

CHAPTER IV
Of Stock lent at Interest 350

CHAPTER V
Of the different Employment of Capitals 360

BOOK III
Of the different Progress of Opulence in different Nations

CHAPTER I
Of the natural Progress of Opulence 376

CHAPTER II
Of the Discouragement of Agriculture in the antient State of Europe after the Fall of the Roman Empire 381

CHAPTER III
Of the Rise and Progress of Cities and Towns, after the Fall of the Roman Empire 397

CHAPTER IV
How the Commerce of the Towns contributed to the Impovement of the Country 411

BOOK IV
Of Systems of political Oeconomy

INTRODUCTION 428

CHAPTER I
Of the Principle of the commercial, or mercantile System 429

CHAPTER II
Of Restraints upon the Importation from foreign Countries of such Goods as can be produced at Home 452

CHAPTER III
Of the extraordinary Restraints upon the Importation of Goods of almost all Kinds, from those Countries with which the Balance is supposed to be disadvantageous

Part I. Of the Unreasonableness of those Restraints even upon the Principles of the Commercial System 473

Digression concerning Banks of Deposit, particularly concerning that of Amsterdam 479

Part II. Of the Unreasonableness of those extraordinary Restraints upon other Principles 488

CHAPTER IV
Of Drawbacks 499

CHAPTER V
Of Bounties 505

Digression concerning the Corn Trade and Corn Laws 524

CHAPTER VI
Of Treaties of Commerce 545

CHAPTER VII
Of Colonies

Part I. Of the Motives for establishing new Colonies 556

Part II. Causes of the Prosperity of new Colonies 564

Part III. Of the Advantages which Europe has derived from the Discovery of America, and from that of a Passage to the East Indies by the Cape of Good Hope 591

CHAPTER VIII
Conclusion of the Mercantile System 642

CHAPTER IX
Of the agricultural Systems, or of those Systems of political Oeconomy, which represent the Produce of Land, as either the sole or the principal Source of the Revenue and Wealth of every Country 663

BOOK V

Of the Revenue of the Sovereign or Commonwealth

CHAPTER I
Of the Expences of the Sovereign or Commonwealth

Part I. Of the Expence of Defence 689

Part II. Of the Expence of Justice 708

Part III. Of the Expence of publick Works and publick Institutions 723

Of the Publick Works and Institutions for facilitating the Commerce of the Society

And, first, of those which are necessary for facilitating Commerce in general 724

Of the Publick Works and Institutions which are necessary for facilitating particular Branches of Commerce 731

Article 2d. Of the Expence of the Institutions for the Education of Youth 758

Article 3d. Of the Expence of the Institutions for the Instruction of People of all Ages 788

Part IV. Of the Expence of supporting the Dignity of the Sovereign 814

Conclusion of the Chapter 814

CHAPTER II
Of the Sources of the general or publick Revenue of the Society

Part I. Of the Funds or Sources of Revenue which may peculiarly belong to the Sovereign or Commonwealth 817

Part II. Of Taxes 825

Article 1st. Taxes upon Rent; Taxes upon the Rent of Land 828

Taxes which are proportioned, not to the Rent, but to the Produce of Land 836

Taxes upon the Rent of Houses 840

Article 2d. Taxes upon Profit, or upon the Revenue arising from Stock 847

Taxes upon the Profit of particular Employments 852

Appendix to Articles 1st and 2d. Taxes upon the Capital Value of Lands, Houses, and Stock 858

Article 3d. Taxes upon the Wages of Labour 864

Article 4th. Taxes which, it is intended, should fall indifferently upon every different Species of Revenue

Capitation Taxes 867

Taxes upon consumable Commodities 869

CHAPTER III
Of publick Debts 907

[Appendix] 948

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Reading Group Guide

The Wealth of Nations
by Adam Smith

It is symbolic that Adam Smith’s masterpiece of economic analysis, The Wealth of Nations, was first published in 1776, the same year as the Declaration of Independence.

In his book, Smith fervently extolled the simple yet enlightened notion that individuals are fully capable of setting and regulating prices for their own goods and services. He argued passionately in favor of free trade, yet stood up for the little guy. The Wealth of Nations provided the first--and still the most eloquent--integrated description of the workings of a market economy.

The result of Smith’s efforts is a witty, highly readable work of genius filled with prescient theories that form the basis of a thriving capitalist system. This unabridged edition offers the modern reader a fresh look at a timeless and seminal work that revolutionized the way governments and individuals view the creation and dispersion of wealth--and that continues to influence our economy right up to the present day.|

1. Many of the concepts developed by Adam Smith in The Wealth of Nations-the nature of free trade, laissez-faire, the division of labor-were revolutionary notions in 1776, and remain central to contemporary liberal economic thought. Discuss contemporary economics in light of some of the key notions elaborated by Smith.

2. Smith famously writes: “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. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love. . . .” What does Smith mean by “self-love” or “self-interest”?

3. As R. H. Campbell and A. S. Skinner write, The Wealth of Nations “was not only an intellectual achievement . . . embracing as it does the explanation of complex social relations on the basis of a few principles, but also a work which provided practical prescriptions for the problems of the day.” Discuss these aspects of Smith’s work-analytical and prescriptive or historical; what is their relation? Is the one necessary for an appreciation of the other?

4. In his Introduction to this volume, Robert Reich notes that “The Wealth of Nations is resolutely about human beings-their capacities and incentives to be productive, their overall well-being, and the connection between productivity and well-being.” How does this statement, taken as a point of departure, shed light on Smith’s book and its significance?

5. Although he is considered the founder of political economy (or modern economic thought more generally), Adam Smith considered himself a moral philosopher. How does looking at him in this way-as someone fundamentally concerned with questions of ethics-change your understanding or appreciation of his work?

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