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Division of labor: Adam Smith

The Wealth of The Nations by Adam Smith: Division of labor


The Wealth of The Nations by Adam Smith was published in 1776. Book 1 of ‘The Wealth of Nations’, deals with Division of labor. Smith’s book had been published at the dawn of the Industrial age. However, it was also the time when labor conditions were very bad. Around the world, the workers had to face poor working conditions. According to Smith, the roots of economic development lay in the Division of Labor. Increased division of labor meant increased specialization. Division of labor meant that the same person could not work on different tasks. Bigger tasks were divided into their smaller components. Workers had to focus on these smaller components and not on the one entire process. This also meant that the workers were growing more skilled at their jobs by focusing on any single task. Each worker could be an expert at his job.

Since the laborers did not have to focus on multiple jobs, this  saved them precious time. As the workers grew more skilled, it led to reduced errors. It was an important benefit that led to increased production. Moreover, the workers were not required to switch tasks or tools during a day. One did not need to be carpenter by the day and painter by the night. Division of labor in this sense meant that the tasks were now clearly divided. Moreover, it was the time when the assembly line technology had been introduced. It also meant that the workers were required to focus on specific parts of their work. Division of labor also meant that the right man could be assigned to the right job. This was productive labor. Productive labor could create surplus value which could again be invested in production. There were major benefits of this kind of work, as it saved, time and money and increased the level of production. However, there were a few problems associated with such development that Smith highlighted.


The division of labor had forced the workers to do repetitive and mundane tasks. This could lead to burn out and dissatisfaction among the workforce. Through his work Smith tried to further the idea that the government must be interested in the education of workers. He was writing at a time when laborers were subjected to long hours of tiring work under inhuman conditions. While the wages were low, the attitude of employers towards the workers was that of masters towards the slave. The main idea behind the education of the workers was to help them bear the deleterious effects of the factory life. Apart from it there was fierce system of fines for the erring workers and accidents happened regularly. Overall, it was a period when factories were unsafe to work at and jobs could be highly dissatisfying.  Smith was concerned about the problems that accompanied the division of labor. He highlighted that production could increase manifold with Divisions of Labor, but the problems of the workers also needed attention.