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[SECT. I.—: ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH RENDER LABOUR MORE EFFECTIVE.] - Dugald Stewart, Lectures on Political Economy, vol. 1 
Lectures on Political Economy. Now first published. Vol. I. To which is Prefixed, Part Third of the Outlines of Moral Philosophy, edited by Sir William Hamilton (Edinburgh, Thomas Constable, 1855).
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ON THE CIRCUMSTANCES WHICH RENDER LABOUR MORE EFFECTIVE.]
I proceed now to illustrate the general principles on which the effective powers of labour depend; or, in other words, to illustrate the circumstances which tend to economize the exertions of human power in accomplishing the purposes to which it is directed. The speculation, certainly, is one of the most curious which the mechanism of a commercial society presents to a philosopher; and it leads to many consequences of a very general and important application. From the observations already made, it appears that man is forced, in every situation in which he is to be found, by the necessities of his nature, to employ some degree of art in order to obtain the means of subsistence and safety. It appears farther, that it is to these necessities he is indebted for the development and improvement of those faculties by which he is distinguished from the brutes; and that, excepting in a few districts, where the preservation of his animal existence occupies his whole attention, and leaves him no leisure for the arts of accommodation, his intellectual attainments are, in general, proportioned to the number of his wants, and to the difficulties with which he has to struggle. As Rousseau observes:—“Chez toutes les nations du monde, les progrès de l’esprit se sont précisément proportionnés aux besoins que les peuples avaient reçus de la nature, ou auxquels les circonstances les avaient assujettis, et par conséquent aux passions qui les portaient à pourvoir à ces besoins. Je montrerais en Egypte les arts naissants et s’étendants avec les débordemens du Nil; je suivrais leurs progrès chez les Grecs, où l’on les vit germer, croître, et s’élever jusqu’aux cieux parmi les sables et les rochers de l’Attique, sans pouvoir prendre racine sur les bords fertiles de l’Eurotas.”*
As soon as the situation of an individual is rendered easy and comfortable, with respect to the necessities of life, he begins to feel wants of which he was not conscious before, and his imagination creates new objects of pursuit to fill up his intervals of leisure. It seems to be the intention of Providence, that as soon as one class of our wants is supplied, another, whether real or imaginary, makes its appearance; and it is this, that as no limit can be stated to our desires, so there seems to be no limit to the improvement of the arts and the progress of refinement.
In the rudest state of society, in which all the members of a tribe are occupied in procuring subsistence, each individual will appropriate to himself the various objects of pursuit by his own personal exertions. He will form his own habitation, secure his prey by his own strength or agility, and be the artificer of those instruments which are employed in the simple arts which minister to his safety or accommodation; and thus his occupations, however limited in number, will be at least as various as the arts which he exercises; and the opportunities of intellectual improvement, however scanty, will be nearly the same to all the members of the community.
On the Division of Labour.]
As society advances, the different tastes and propensities of individuals will give rise to a variety in their pursuits, and in their habits and attainments. In such circumstances, a very small degree of experience or reflection will satisfy them, that it would be for the advantage of all if each should confine himself to his own favourite occupation, cultivating to the utmost of his ability those mechanical habits which are connected with its exercise, and exchanging the surplus produce of his industry for what he may want of the commodities produced by the labour of his neighbours. Thus trades and separate professions will arise, which, in consequence of the operation of the same causes, will continually multiply and be divided and subdivided as society advances in wealth and refinement. The observation, that “A Jack of all trades is master of none,” is one of those maxims of common sense which the slightest survey of human life forces on the most careless observer.*
It is on this separation of trades and professions, and on this division and subdivision of labour, that the progress of the arts, according to Mr. Smith, in a great measure, depends; the effective powers of labour being, in general, proportioned to the degree in which these are divided and distributed.† The same idea had, before Mr. Smith’s time, been adopted by various modern writers; particularly by Mr. Harris in his Dialogue concerning Happiness, 1741;‡ and by Dr. Ferguson in his Essay on Civil Society.§ The fact, too, has been very strongly stated by different writers of a much more early date; particularly by Sir William Petty and Dr. Mandeville; nor did it escape the notice of the ancients, as appears among various other documents, from a very curious passage in the Cyropædia of Xenophon, in which he compares the distribution of employments in Cyrus’s kitchen to the division of trades in a populous city. This passage states the doctrine so circumstantially, and with a simplicity of detail so characteristical of this inimitable writer, that I shall make no apology for quoting the passage at length:—
“For as other arts are wrought up in great cities to a greater degree of perfection, in the same manner are the meats that come from the king dressed in greater perfection. For in little cities the same people make both the frame of a couch, a door, a plough, and a table; and frequently the same person is a builder too, and very well satisfied he is, if he meet with customers enough to maintain him. It is impossible, therefore, for a man that makes a great many different things, to do them all well. But in great cities, because there are multitudes that want every particular thing, one art alone is sufficient for the maintenance of every one; and frequently not an entire one neither, but one man makes shoes for men, another for women. Sometimes it happens, that one gets a maintenance by sewing shoes together, another by cutting them out; one by cutting out cloths only, and another without doing any of these things is maintained by fitting together the pieces so cut out. He, therefore, that deals in a business that lies within a little compass, must of necessity do it the best. The case is the same with respect to the business of a table, for he that has the same man to cover and adorn the frame of a couch, to set out the table, to knead the dough, to dress the several different meats, must necessarily, in my opinion, fare in each particular as it happens. But where it is business enough for one man to boil meat, for another to roast it; for one to boil fish, and for another to broil it; where it is business enough for one man to make bread, and that not of every sort neither, but that its enough for him to furnish one sort good, each man, in my opinion, must of necessity work up the things that are thus made to a very great perfection.”*
From this passage of Xenophon it is evident, that the effects of the division of labour, in contributing to the improvement of the arts, furnished a subject of speculation in ancient as well as in modern times. It is very observable, however, in the foregoing quotation, that what Xenophon lays the chief stress on, is the effect of this division in improving the quality of the articles produced, whereas the circumstance which has chiefly attracted the attention of Mr. Smith and other modern writers, is its astonishing effect in increasing their quantity. In proof of this, Mr. Smith has entered into some very interesting details with regard to the trade of the pin-makers.†
The effect of the division of labour in increasing its effective powers, is chiefly owing, according to Mr. Smith, to the three following circumstances:—
“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. . . .
“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 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. . . .
“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.”*
“1st, Greater skill and dexterity are acquired by each workman.” Of the effects of practice in increasing the rapidity and address of the hand in performing mechanical operations, no proof more striking can be mentioned than the feats of legerdemain exhibited by jugglers. Some of these, indeed, are so astonishing, and evince a degree of dexterity so much before anything else that we know, that they appear to deserve a much more accurate investigation than philosophers have hitherto bestowed on them. Other examples of the same kind will readily occur to any person who has been accustomed to frequent the workshops of manufacturers. The following facts are mentioned in the Wealth of Nations:—“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 conclusion which Mr. Smith deduces from these and some similar statements is,—that as the subdivision of labour limits the attention of every different workman to a very simple operation, it must proportionally increase the dexterity of all; and consequently, their joint labour will, in a given time, be more effective, and their workmanship will be more perfect in its kind, than if each singly had attempted to perform all the different operations thus parcelled out.
In this view of the subject, there is unquestionably a great deal of truth. But it may, I think, be reasonably doubted, whether Mr. Smith has not laid too much stress on it, in accounting for the advantages gained from that astonishing division and subdivision of labour which takes place in some of the arts. That the rapidity of the hand in executing a mechanical operation, may be increased by practice to a very great degree, is an acknowledged fact. But there is obviously a limit, beyond which this rapidity cannot possibly be carried; and I am inclined to think, that in such very simple operations as drawing out a wire, &c., it is not very long before this ultimatum in point of rapidity is reached by the workman. Nor can I bring myself to believe, that after it is attained, the dexterity of the workman in performing this one operation would be at all impaired, though he should also have acquired a few other accomplishments of a similar nature: that the drawer of the wire would be less fitted for his employment, if he changed occupations for a day or two with the cutter or pointer of the pin. Indeed, I know of few manufactures where great manual dexterity is less required, than in that of pin-making. Even in those establishments which employ the labour of the hand to perform various operations, which in richer manufactures are accomplished by means of machinery, a very considerable part of the work is executed by children. Hence I am led to conclude, that though one of the advantages of the division of labour be to increase the rapidity of manual work, yet this advantage bears so very small a proportion to that which is gained in the last result, that it is by no means entitled to stand at the head of the enumeration; and certainly goes a very little length in accounting for that minute division and subdivision of labour which has been introduced into some of the most prosperous manufactures of this country. On this head, therefore, I entirely agree with a remark of Lord Lauderdale in his Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Public Wealth, where he observes, that even in the trade of the pin-maker, without the use of machinery to supersede the work of the hand, no great progress could have been made in the rapidity with which pins are formed.
In the second place, says Mr. Smith, “when a man leaves off one employment, and begins another, he is always disposed to trifle for some time, &c. All this time is saved by the division of labour.” The observation seems to be perfectly just, so far as it goes; but the economy of time gained in this way, must plainly bear a still more inconsiderable proportion than the former, to the magnitude of the effect which it is brought to explain.
It may perhaps be worth while to remark here in passing, that something similar to this effect in mechanical operations takes place with respect to the intellectual powers. When we pass suddenly from one speculation, and still more from one study to another, some time always elapses before the attention is completely engaged, and before the new set of ideas and facts is fully brought under our view. If I am not mistaken, this consideration affords an unanswerable objection to a practice which has been recommended by many authors, of making a regular distribution of the day into different portions, allotted to the study of different branches of literature and science. Where mere accomplishment is the object, this plan may contribute to its attainment better than any other, but with those who have in view the investigation of truth, and the acquisition of scientific knowledge, I am persuaded that much more intellectual work (if I may use the expression) will be performed, and much more successfully, in a given time, by preserving the train of thought, so as to bring one speculation completely to a close, before beginning another. Indeed, it would not be difficult to shew that the observation applies far more forcibly to intellectual exertion than to mechanical labour.
On the Use of Machinery as a Substitute for Labour.]
In the third place, the division of labour, according to Mr. Smith, increases its effective powers by promoting the invention of useful machines. In illustration of this remark, he reasons as follows:—
“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 improvements. 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.”*
Before I proceed to make any remarks on this reasoning of Mr. Smith, I think it necessary to observe, that even if it were perfectly just, it would not be at all applicable to the present question. His professed object is to explain in what manner the division of labour increases its effective powers. The two first reasons are certainly legitimate and satisfactory, so far as they go; but in his third reason, Mr. Smith has plainly departed from his usual logical accuracy. The tendency of the division of labour to promote the invention of useful machines, cannot with propriety be said to render that labour more effective, so long as it continues to be exerted; for as soon as the machine is invented, the labour is superseded altogether. The effects, therefore, of the division of labour, and of the use of machines, though they both derive their value from the same circumstance, their tendency to enable one man to perform the work of many, are produced on principles essentially different; nor is it more correct to resolve the advantages of machinery into the effects produced by the division of labour, than it would be to resolve the latter into the former. Indeed, in my opinion, the last theory might be easily rendered the more plausible of the two.
But, passing from this objection to Mr. Smith’s reasoning, let us consider how far it is true, that workmen occupied from morning to night in repeating the same simple operation, are likely to be more fortunate than others in falling on mechanical inventions. The only proof of this produced by Mr. Smith, is the improvement of the steam-engine, said to be owing to the ingenuity of a boy engaged in the work. This account of the matter, I must own, has always appeared to me extremely unsatisfactory. That in some accidental cases the distribution of labour may have produced such effects, is possible. But it surely is an event not to be expected in the ordinary case, inasmuch as the workman has no motive to exert his ingenuity in multiplying machines, as in doing so, though he may accelerate the progress of the manufacture, yet he does not abridge his own day’s labour; and indeed there is even a probability that he may throw himself and his companions out of employment. Nor is this all; the division of labour tends to confine the attention, and of consequence the knowledge of the workman to the performance of one simple operation; whereas the perfection of manufacturing machinery consists in the combination of the greatest possible variety of operations in one machine. The habits of thinking, therefore, which the division of labour tends to generate, are adverse to that comprehension of mechanical contrivance on which the perfection of machinery depends. In confirmation of this reasoning, it may be worth while to remark, that among the many complicated machines which the manufactures of this country exhibit, while many of them may be traced to men who never entered the workshop, but in order to gratify a mechanical curiosity, hardly one can be mentioned which derives its origin from the living automatons, who are employed in the details of the work. With such fortunate inventors, the hope of reward operates in calling forth all their faculties; and as their studies embrace a general view of the subject, instead of dwelling upon its detached parts, their success, notwithstanding their total ignorance in many cases, has been greater than could have resulted from the highest efforts of a more circumscribed ingenuity.
I am far at the same time from denying, that the division of labour has a powerful effect to promote the invention of machines. But where it has this effect, it appears to operate, not on the inventive powers of the workman, but on those of his employer, or of the speculative observer. As to the former, his inventive powers will be always on the stretch to economize time and labour; and it is only where such a stimulus exists, that we can look with confidence to a perpetual succession of progressive improvement. In almost every instance the proverb will be found to hold true, that “Necessity,” or what amounts to the same thing, some urgent motive leading to the accomplishment of some desirable object, “is the mother of invention.”
As to the principle on which the division of labour tends to multiply mechanical contrivances, this seems to me to be a good deal more refined than Mr. Smith appears to have thought. The obvious effect of the division of labour in any complicated mechanical operation is, to analyze that operation into the simplest steps which can be carried on separately. Of these steps, there may probably be some which can only be performed by the human hand, while others, either in whole or in part, admit of the substitution of machines. Now, it is only by resolving an operation into its simplest elements, that this separation can be made, so as to force on the attention of the mechanist, in their simplest forms, those particular cases where his ingenuity may be useful. It is thus, too, that the advantages arising from the aid of machinery become so apparent and palpable, as to excite the efforts of inventive genius; a machine which supplies the labour of the hand, superseding of course a particular description of workmen, and thereby exhibiting the utility of the invention on a scale proportioned to the number of individuals whose labour it supersedes. While thus it enables one man to perform the work of many, it produces also an economy of time, by separating the work into its different branches, all of which may be carried into execution at the same moment. While one man is employed in drawing out the wire, from which a multitude of pins are to be simultaneously cut by some analogous expedient, another is employed in pointing them, &c. The obvious effect of this arrangement is, in the first place, to enable one workman to cut or point a multitude of pins as easily as he could have done a single one; and in the second place, by carrying on all the different processes at once, which an individual must have executed separately, to produce a multitude of pins completely finished in the same time as a single pin might have been either cut or pointed. As the division of labour on the one hand, appears thus to be favourable to mechanical invention; so, on the other hand, it is probable that the general experience of the utility of machines has led ingenious men to push, in some cases, the division of labour to a far greater length than was useful. If I am not mistaken, a remarkable instance of this occurs in that very trade, so often referred to, of the pinmaker; the very minute analysis of work there carried into effect having originated, not in any views of increasing the dexterity of the workmen, but in an attempt to make machinery practicable in that manufacture. The foregoing remarks establish fully the truth of an assertion which was formerly made, [p. 317,] that the effects of the division of labour, and of machinery in the manufacturing arts, are produced on principles entirely different, though the objects of both are to accomplish the same purpose—the economy of labour and time; and although in doing so they are often so combined as to render it difficult to draw the line between their respective functions.
It is not, however, by means of these two expedients alone, that labour and time may be economized. The astonishing effects produced, in consequence of a skilful application of chemical principles, to shorten the tedious processes formerly practised in various branches of the arts, are universally known. The use of the oxy-muriatic acid in bleaching, is only one instance out of many, of the beneficial effects thus produced. Of the extent of the advantage to be gained by mere skill and activity, when prompted by the hope of gain, and aided by mechanical contrivance, no instance more curious can be mentioned than what is afforded by the history of the Scotch distilleries. In the year 1785, a proposal was made to collect the duties on distillation by way of license, to be paid annually on every still in proportion to its size, at a fixed rate per gallon, in place of all other taxes. The London distillers, who agreed to the proposal, declared themselves satisfied, from experience, that the time of working stills to advantage was limited to an extent perfectly well known, and that whoever exceeded this limit, would infallibly lose on his materials, and in the quantity of his goods, what he gained in point of time; and in conformity to their opinion, the duty was settled on a supposition that a still could be discharged about seven times in a week. Two years after this, in a petition to Parliament, the same men alleged, that the Scotch distillers had found means to discharge their stills upwards of forty times a week; and we since know, from a report made to the Lords of the Treasury in the year 1799, that a forty-three gallon still was brought to such perfection, as to be discharged at the rate of once in two minutes and three quarters. It appears also from this report, that the operation of distilling is capable of being performed in a still shorter time; and that the quality of the spirit is in no ways injured by the rapidity of the operation. On reflecting on the history of these astonishing exertions of human ingenuity, it cannot fail immediately to occur, that whatever advantages have been gained by mechanical contrivances, have derived their origin, not from the concentrated ingenuity of workmen eager to accomplish their own ruin by the invention of machinery, but from the comprehensive skill of the undertaker, stimulated to economize time to the utmost limit, by the pressure of the new difficulties with which he had to struggle.
Various other illustrations to the same purpose may be drawn from the improvements which have taken place in other arts within the narrow compass of our own times. It is necessary for me, however, to confine myself to the statement of general principles, without making a farther reference to facts than may be necessary to render these more intelligible and impressive. To those who wish to prosecute the speculation, it may be sufficient to mention the late improvements introduced into the manufacture of iron and copper, and the still more familiar improvements in spinning and weaving; to which we may add the prodigies effected in bleaching and dying, by the application of chemical principles to those arts. It may not, however, be superfluous to remark, before dismissing this subject, that the advantages derived by society from the facilities afforded by roads, canals, bridges, the establishment of regular posts, by safe and convenient harbours, and everything which tends to improve the art of navigation, are all illustrations of the same doctrine, evincing the powerful and manifold influence of those expedients which economize labour and time on the commercial interests of a country.
The author of the Inquiry into the Nature and Origin of Public Wealth, has chosen to express this general principle in a different way. What I would ascribe to the division of labour, he ascribes to the operation of capital; qualifying his statement by calling it the operation of capital in superseding labour. I confess, I do not think that the consideration of capital should enter at all into this general view of the subject; for though almost all the expedients alluded to, do imply the possession of capital, more especially those expedients which consist in the use of machinery, yet that they do not imply it necessarily, appears sufficiently from those compendious and cheap processes which chemistry has suggested in various arts. Nor is this all: Even in the most expensive machines, capital forms only one of the conditions to their establishment. Capital, of itself, can do nothing, unless directed by skill. Why, therefore, should this last circumstance be overlooked? Are not the advantages that have been derived from the improved steam-engine, due as much to the genius of Watt as to the capital of Boulton? On the whole, therefore, I am inclined to prefer the statement which I have now proposed, to either of the others which have been under consideration. Of these statements, that given by Mr. Smith is plainly defective, inasmuch as it embraces a very partial view of the subject; while the other is exceptionable, by clogging the correct statement of the principle by which the effect is produced, with a specification of the means by which it is accomplished, which specification, certainly, does not include all the possible ways by which labour can be encouraged by human ingenuity.
In the course of Mr. Smith’s illustrations on this article of Political Economy, he takes occasion to remark, that “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 in exactly 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.”*
The same observation, too, occurs in some other writers of an earlier date. Thus Mandeville says:—“What a bustle is there to be made in several parts of the world before a fine scarlet or crimson cloth can be produced, what multiplicity of trades and artificers must be employed! not only such as are obvious, as wool-combers, spinners, the weaver, the cloth worker, the scourer, the dyer, the setter, the drawer, and the packer; but others that are more remote and might seem foreign to it, as the mill-wright, the pewterer, and the chemist, which yet all are necessary, as well as a great number of other handicrafts to have the tools, utensils, and other implements belonging to the trades already named. All these things are done at home; the most frightful prospect is left behind, when we reflect on the toil and hazard that are to be undergone abroad, the vast seas we are to go over, the different climates we are to endure, and the several nations we must be obliged to for their assistance.”†
This quotation from Dr. Mandeville, appears to me to be interesting, as it has plainly suggested to Mr. Smith the idea of one of the finest passages in the Wealth of Nations:—
“Observe the accommodation of the most common artificer or day-labourer 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 brick-maker, the brick-layer, the workman who attends the furnace, the mill-wright, 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 conveniences; 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 a 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 master of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages.”*
These illustrations of Mr. Smith’s are so happily and beautifully expressed, that I thought I could not do them justice in any other way than by transcribing them at length from his work. From the view of the subject which has been given, some of Mr. Smith’s expressions will require correction; and his picture, if less pleasing in its colouring, might have been brought nearer to an exact resemblance to the truth, had he insisted less on his favourite topic, and enlarged more on the prodigious effects produced by machinery. On this last head, an anonymous author, who published a pamphlet soon after the riots in Lancashire, occasioned by the introduction of Sir Richard Arkwright’s machinery, has made some very judicious observations, which, though not expressed with all the eloquence of Mr. Smith, may form no inappropriate supplement to the quotations already made.†
Before dismissing the present subject, it is proper for me to mention, as an additional limitation of Mr. Smith’s doctrines, that in certain cases great advantages have been gained by a judicious concentration of all the different employments connected with a particular manufacture under the same general superintendence and management; advantages which Mr. Smith represents as only attainable by pushing the subdivision of labour to a greater extent. In proof of this remark, I shall read a short quotation from an anonymous work which states some facts well worthy of attention in the present argument. The publication to which I allude is entitled, Observations founded on Facts, on the Propriety or Impropriety of Exporting Cotton Twist, published in the year 1803.* As an additional illustration of the same thing, reference is made by the author to Mr. Thorpe’s manufactory at Leeds, where the same work is said to be now performed by thirty-five persons, to execute which in a far more imperfect manner, required, eighteen years ago, 1634 persons.
In offering the criticisms with which I concluded my lecture yesterday, on the favourite speculation of Mr. Smith with respect to the division of labour, I must again remark, that I do not censure his doctrines as erroneous, but only as partial and incomplete. Of the importance of the division in promoting the progress of the arts, and as a very striking feature in the present state of society in England, I am abundantly aware. I only mean to say, that it is not the sole cause of the progress of the arts, or of the diffusion of wealth among the body of the people;—that there are various other causes with which it is altogether unconnected, and that even where its effects are the greatest, it generally co-operates with other causes much more powerful in their operation.
A farther limitation of Mr. Smith’s doctrine with respect to the connexion between the division of labour and national wealth, is suggested by this consideration, that if it is just in all its extent, it would necessarily follow, that in every country where the division of labour is carried to a great extent, the condition of the people must be actually easy and prosperous. This conclusion surely would be very wide of the truth. Before men can think of the accommodations of life, it is necessary that they should be provided with the means of subsistence; and the abundance of these must always depend on the state of Agriculture,—an art, to the perfection of which the division of labour contributes less than to that of any other art whatsoever. Indeed, where this art is neglected, or does not receive adequate encouragement, one of the greatest sources of national distress may be found in the encroachment which the poor man is led to make on the funds, which are destined for procuring food, by those artificial wants which the arts of accommodation provoke and multiply.
With respect to the limit to which the division of labour may be carried, it is fixed, according to Mr. Smith, in all cases by the extent of the market. Before a person dedicates himself entirely to one employment, says Mr. Smith, he must have a reasonable ground of assurance, that he will be able to exchange the surplus produce of his labour for the commodities which he may want of a different nature, and accordingly, in a country which is thinly peopled, we find some individuals uniting a variety of different employments; while in those cases where the market is extensive, and where large capitals are employed in trade, the imagination can hardly fix any limits to the progressive simplification of manufacturing art. It must at the same time be remembered, that these circumstances, though indispensable requisites, are not those alone on which this progress depends, as sufficiently appears from the powerful stimulus which has been applied in this country by the pressure of our public burdens, and also by the competition of foreign nations. In the different parts of Great Britain, illustrations may be collected of all the various gradations in the simplification of manual operations, from that state of society where the farmer is butcher, baker, and brewer to his own family, to the prevalent and almost ludicrous extreme of refinement which is exhibited in the manufacture of a pin. In some parts of the Highlands of Scotland, not many years ago, every peasant, according to the Statistical Accounts, made his own shoes of leather tanned by himself. Many a shepherd and cottar too, with his wife and children, appeared at church in clothes which had been touched by no hands but their own, since they were shorn from the sheep and sown in the flax field. In the preparation of these, it is added, scarcely a single article had been purchased, except the awl, needle, thimble, and a very few parts of the iron-work employed in the weaving. The dyes, too, were chiefly extracted by the women from trees, shrubs, and herbs.
The remarks quoted from Mr. Smith at our last meeting, naturally lead our attention to the effects of the separation of professions in consolidating the social union, and in organizing the political system, by multiplying the mutual connexions and dependencies of the different members of a community. There is nothing, indeed, in the history of human affairs more striking than this obvious fact, that in proportion as the intellectual and moral faculties of the species are unfolded and cultivated, and in proportion as the joint wealth and power of the community increase, individuals, considered apart, should become more and more connected with one another, and man should be rendered more necessary to man. I need hardly add, that this separation of professions, which, by limiting some men to the labour of the hands, and allowing others to cultivate their intellectual powers, fits the one to govern, and the others to be governed, and establishes in a state, that good order and tranquillity which are incompatible with the habits of uncivilized life. The Son of Sirach has described this state of things with beautiful simplicity:—“The wisdom of a learned man cometh by opportunity of leisure: and he that hath little business shall become wise.—How can he get wisdom that holdeth the plough, and that glorieth in the goad, that driveth oxen, and is occupied in their labours, and whose talk is of bullocks? He giveth his mind to make furrows, and is diligent to give the kine fodder. So every carpenter and work-master, that laboureth night and day: and they that cut and grave seals, and are diligent to make great variety, and give themselves to counterfeit imagery, and watch to finish a work. The smith also sitting by the anvil, and considering the iron work, the vapour of the fire wasteth his flesh, and he fighteth with the heat of the furnace: the noise of the hammer and the anvil is ever in his ears, and his eyes look still upon the pattern of the thing that he maketh; he setteth his mind to finish his work, and watcheth to polish it perfectly. So doth the potter sitting at his work, and turning the wheel about with his feet, who is alway carefully set at his work, and maketh all his work by number; he fashioneth the clay with his arm, and boweth down his strength before his feet; he applieth himself to lead it over; and he is diligent to make clean the furnace.—All these trust to their hands: and every one is wise in his work. Without these cannot a city be inhabited: and they shall not dwell where they will, nor go up and down: they shall not be sought for in public counsel, nor sit high in the congregation: they shall not sit on the judges’ seat, nor understand the sentence of judgment: they cannot declare justice and judgment; and they shall not be found where parables are spoken. But they will maintain the state of the world, and all their desire is in the work of their craft.—But he that giveth his mind to the law of the most High, and is occupied in the meditation thereof, . . . he shall serve among great men, and appear before princes.”*
There is, it must be confessed, at the same time, one view of this subject which is not altogether so pleasing; I mean the effect which, in the more advanced stages of commercial and manufacturing refinement, is produced by the subdivision of labour on the intellectual and moral qualities of those who are doomed to be the instruments of all those blessings to their fellow-citizens. It is justly remarked by Dr. Ferguson in his Essay on the History of Civil Society, “The artist finds that the more he can confine his attention to a particular part of any work, his productions are the more perfect, and grow under his hands in greater quantities. Every undertaker and manufacturer finds, that the more he can subdivide the tasks of his workmen, and the more hands he can employ on separate articles, the more are his expenses diminished and his profits increased.” . . . “Every craft may engross the whole of a man’s attention, and has a mystery which must be studied or learned by a regular apprenticeship. Nations of tradesmen come to consist of members, who, beside their own particular trade, are ignorant of all human affairs, and who may contribute to the preservation and enlargement of their commonwealth, without making its interest an object of their regard or attention.” . . . “Many mechanical arts, indeed, require no capacity, they succeed best under a total suppression of sentiment and reason; and ignorance is the mother of industry as well as of superstition. Reflection and fancy are subject to err, but a habit of moving the hand or the foot is independent of either. Manufactures accordingly prosper most where the mind is least consulted, and where the workshop may, without any great effort of imagination, be considered as an engine, the parts of which are men.”*
This view of the moral effects of the division of labour, which is at least equally important with the former, is illustrated at length by the author now quoted, with his usual ingenuity and eloquence. To contrive some method of obviating or diminishing this misfortune, which seems at first view to be inseparably connected with the growth of commercial prosperity, is one of the most important problems of legislation. The remedy which at first suggests itself, is the establishment of a system of national instruction, adapted peculiarly to the lower orders of men. But the prosecution of this subject would lead me into too extensive a field of speculation. I cannot, however, quit this article without remarking, that the evil, though a real one while it lasts, naturally leads the way to its own correction, so as to render it probable that it is but a step in the progress of human improvement. In confirmation of this remark, a variety of proofs crowd on me; but I shall confine my attention to one consideration, which follows as an obvious corollary from the foregoing principles. I have already endeavoured to explain, in what manner the division of labour leads to the invention of machines. When the simplification has been carried so far as to convert, according to Dr. Ferguson’s metaphor, a workshop into an engine, the parts of which are men, the next step is that which converts it into an engine, literally so called, where the place of men is supplied by mechanical contrivances. The ultimate tendency, therefore, of this process, is to substitute mechanical contrivances for manufacturing work, and to open a field for human genius in the nobler departments of industry and talent. There are some other respects, besides, in which the invention of machines counteracts the effects of that division of labour by which it is facilitated. I have heard it remarked, for example, as an advantage resulting from the subdivision of labour, that it obstructs the transplantation of manufactures from one country to another, tending thereby to preserve to a nation which has once outstripped its neighbours, the superiority which it has gained. The effect of mechanical inventions, unquestionably, is to encourage and accelerate this transplantation, rendering the progress of arts and manufactures over the globe more and more an operation of capital. If the former be advantageous in a national view, the latter acts with a more extensive influence on the fortunes of the human race. Indeed, its partial inconvenience, with respect to the stability of some branches of foreign trade, is much more than counterbalanced by its tendency to support manufactures over the whole face of our own country, so as at once to distribute their beneficial effects, and to prevent the evils with which they are attended when carried to an undue excess in a particular district. But I have already dwelt longer on this general topic than perhaps was requisite; and I hasten to other discussions more circumscribed in their object, though intimately connected with those in which we have been engaged.
The result of the reasonings which I have now stated, with respect to the division of labour is, that however extensively this principle may operate as one cause of the improvement of the arts, and of the general diffusion of the accommodations of life among the members of a commercial society, yet that a variety of other causes co-operate no less powerfully to the same effect; more particularly the invention of machinery, the application of chemistry to the arts, and the facilities afforded to commercial exchanges by roads, bridges, canals, harbours, and the arts of navigation. In one common tendency, as I remarked in my lecture yesterday, all these different expedients agree with the division of labour, and with each other; I mean their tendency to save or to supersede labour; and therefore I should be disposed to substitute, instead of the phrase “division of labour,” as employed by Mr. Smith, the more general phrase, “economy of labour,” a phrase which points out with precision the common qualities from which the division of labour, the invention of machinery, the facilities afforded to commerce, and the application of chemistry, derive all their value.
[OF MONEY, THE CIRCULATING MEDIUM.]
[* ] [Origine de l’Inégalité parmi les Hommes, Partie I.—But the “gaudent sudoribus artes” had been long proverbial; it may be traced higher than Hesiod, and far lower than Baptista Mantuanus.]
[* ] [“Propre à tout, propre à rien.” Indeed, all languages have a corresponding proverb. In Latin:—“Cuncta nihilque sumus,”—“Nusquam est, qui ubique est,”—“In omnibus aliquid, in toto nihil,” &c. In the Margites, a kind of Dunciad, attributed to Homer, it is said of the hero in a line preserved in the Second Alcibiades, one of the spurious dialogues of Plato,—
Πόλλ’ ἠπίστατο ἔϱγα, ϰαϰῶς δ’ ἠπίστατο πάντα.
And to this line, certainly, Mr. Stewart here makes reference.]
[† ] [Wealth of Nations, Book I. chap. i.; Vol. I. p. 9, tenth edition.]
[‡ ] [Part I. sect. xii.]
[ ] [Part IV. sect. i.]
[* ] [In the original, Lib. VIII. cap. ii. 4.—The translation is by the Honourable Maurice Ashley.]
[† ] [See supra, p. 256, seq.]
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book I. chap. i.; Vol. I. pp. 12-14, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Book I. chap. i.; Vol. I. p. 12, tenth edition.]
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, Book I. chap. i.; Vol. i. p. 14, seq., tenth edition.]
[* ] [Wealth of Nations, B. I. chap. i.; Vol. I. p. 16, seq., tenth edition.]
[† ] [The Fable of the Bees, &c., with an Essay on Charity and Charity Schools, and a Search into the Nature of Society. Lond. 1714, 1723, 1732.]
[* ] [Book I. chap. i.; Vol. I. pp. 17-19, tenth edition.]
[† ] [Probably Letters on the Utility and Policy of employing Machines to shorten Labour, occasioned by the late Disturbances in Lancashire, &c., 1782. But this pamphlet I have never seen, and the Notes do not supply Mr. Stewart’s quotation.]
[* ] [Perhaps 1805; see Watt. Like the former the Notes give no quotation from this pamphlet, of which I am equally ignorant.]
[* ] [Ecclesiasticus, xxxviii. 24—xxxix. 4.]
[* ] [Part IV. sect. i.]