Adam Smith argued that the “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange” was inherent in human nature and gave rise to things such as the division of labour (1776)

Adam Smith

Found in An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (Cannan ed.), vol. 1

In his discussion of the division of labor, Adam Smith argues that the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange is part of human nature:

This division of labour, from which so many advantages are derived, is not originally the effect of any human wisdom, which foresees and intends that general opulence to which it gives occasion. It is the necessary, though very slow and gradual consequence of a certain propensity in human nature which has in view no such extensive utility; the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.

Adam Smith raises an important point in this quotation: is the “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange” something that is inherent in human nature or is it something learned or otherwise acquired by living in society? His conclusion was that it was a “natural” and not an “artificial” aspect of all humanity. It was from this “inherent” property of human nature that he derived the idea of the division of labour which was crucial for the development of complex economic structures in all societies wherever they may be located.