Chapter 8: The Advantages and Disadvantages Resulting from Division of Labour, and of the Extent to Which it May Be Carried.

September 30, 2015

The close pursuit of this inquiry through all the arts of industry would show, that the advantage of machinery is not limited to the bare substitution of it for human labour, but that, in fact, it gives a positive new product, inasmuch as it gives a degree of perfection before unknown. The flatting-mill and the die execute products, that the utmost skill and attention of the human hand could never accomplish. We have already observed that the several operations, the combination of which forms but one branch of industry, are not in general undertaken or performed by the same person; for they commonly require different kinds of talent; and the labour requisite to each is enough to take up a man’s whole time and attention. Nay, in some instances, a single one of these operations is split again into smaller subdivisions, each of them sufficient for one person’s exclusive occupation. In fine, machinery does still more; it multiplies products with which it has no immediate connexion. Without taking the trouble to reflect, one perhaps would scarcely imagine that the plough, the harrow, and other similar machines, whose origin is lost in the night of ages, have powerfully contrib- uted to procure for mankind, besides the absolute necessaries of life, a vast number of the superfluities they now enjoy, whereof they would otherwise never have had any concep- tion. Yet, if the different dressings the soil requires could be Thus, the study of nature is shared amongst the chemist, the botanist, the astronomer, and many other classes of students in philosophy. Thus, too, in the application of human knowledge to the sat- isfaction of human wants, in manufacturing industry, for in- 38Book I= On Production stance, we find different classes of manufacturers employed exclusively in the fabric of woollens, pottery, furniture, cot- tons, &c. &c. to the subdivision of labour; because it is this subdivision that enables men to devote themselves to the exclusive pur- suit of one branch of knowledge; which exclusive devotion has wonderfully favoured their advancement. 78 Finally, in the executive part of each of the three branches of industry, there are often as many different classes of work- men as there are different kinds of work. To make the cloth of, a coat, there must have been set to work the several classes of spinners, weavers, dressers, shearers, dyers, and many other classes of labourers, each of whom is constantly and exclu- sively occupied upon one operation. Thus the knowledge or theory necessary to the advancement of commercial industry for instance, attains a far greater de- gree of perfection, when different persons engage in the sev- eral studies; one of geography, with the view of ascertaining the respective position and products of different countries; another of politics, with a view to inform himself of their national laws and manners, and the advantages and disad- vantages of commercial intercourse with them; a third of ge- ometry and mechanics, by way of determining the preferable form of the ships, carriages, and machinery of all kinds, that must be employed; a fourth of astronomy and natural phi- losophy, for the purposes of navigation, &c. &c. The celebrated Adam Smith was the first to point out the immense increase of production, and the superior perfection of products referable to this division of labour. 77 He has cited among other examples, the manufacture of pins. The work- men occupied in this manufacture execute each but one part of a pin. One draws the wire, another cuts it, a third sharpens the points. The head of a pin alone requires two or three dis- tinct operations, each performed by a different individual. By means of this division, an ill-appointed establishment, with but ten labourers employed, could make 48,000 pins per day, by Smith’s account. Whereas, if each person were obliged to finish off the pins one by one, going through every operation successively from first to last, each would probably make but 20 per day, and the ten workmen would produce in the whole but 200, in lieu of 48,000. Thus, too, the application of knowledge in the same depart- ment of commercial industry will obviously arrive at a higher degree of perfection, when divided amongst the several branches of internal, Mediterranean, East and West Indian, American, wholesale and retail, &c. &c. Moreover, such a division is no obstacle to the combination of operations not altogether incompatible, more especially if they aid and assist each other. There is no occasion for two different merchants to conduct, one the trade of import for home consumption, and the other the trade of export of home products; because these operations, far from clashing, mutu- ally facilitate and assist each other. 79 Smith attributes this prodigious difference to three causes= 1 The improved dexterity, corporeal and intellectual, acquired by frequent repetition of one simple operation. In some fab- rics the rapidity with which some of the operations are per- formed exceeds what the human hand could, by those who had never seen them, be supposed capable of acquiring. The division of labour cheapens products, by raising a greater quantity at the same or less charge of production. Competi- tion soon obliges the producer to lower the price to the whole amount of the saving effected; so that he derives much less benefit than the consumer; and every obstacle the latter throws in the way of that division is an injury to himself. 2. The saving of the time which is commonly lost in passing from one species of work to another, and in the change of place, position, and tools. The attention, which is always slowly transferred, has no occasion to transport itself and settle upon a new object. Should a tailor try to make his own shoes as well as his coat, he would infallibly ruin himself. 80 We see every day people acting as their own merchants, to avoid paying a regular trader the ordinary profit of his business; to use their own expres- sion, with the view of pocketing that profit themselves. But this is an erroneous calculation; for this division of labour enables the regular dealer to execute the business for them much cheaper than they can do it themselves. Let them reckon up the trouble it costs them, the loss of time, the money thrown away in extra charges, which is always proportionally more in small than in large operations, and see if all these together do not amount to more than the two or three per cent. that might be saved on every paltry item of consumption; even supposing them not to be deprived of what little advantage 3. The invention of a great number of machines, which facili- tate and abridge labour in all its departments. For the divi- sion of labour naturally limits each operation to an extremely simple task, and one that is incessantly repeated; which is precisely what machinery may most easily be made to per- form. Besides, men soonest discover the methods of arriving at a particular end, when the end is approximate, and their atten- tion exclusively directed to it. Discoveries, even in the walk of philosophy, are for the most part referable, in their origin, 39Jean-Baptise Say, A Treatise on Political Economy they might expect, by the avarice of the cultivator or manu- facturer they would have to deal directly with, who will of course impose, if he can, upon their inexperience. grocery, is a great commercial concern. At Paris, London, and Amsterdam, there are shops, where nothing else is sold but the single article tea, oil or vinegar; and it is natural to suppose that such shops have a much better assortment of the single article, than those dealing in many different commodi- ties at once. Thus, in a rich and populous country, the carrier, the wholesale, the intermediate, and the retail dealer conduct each a separate branch of commercial industry, and conduct it with greater perfection as well as greater economy. Yet they all benefit by this economy; and that they do so, if the expla- nations already given are not convincing, experience bears irrefragable testimony; for consumers always buy cheapest where commercial industry is the most subdivided. Ceteris paribus, a commodity brought from the same distance is sold cheaper at a large town or fair, than in a village or hamlet. It is no advantage, even to the cultivator or manufacturer him- self, except under very particular circumstances, to intrude upon the province of the merchant, and endeavour to deal directly with the consumer without his intervention. He would only divert his attention from his ordinary occupation, and lose time that might be far better employed in his own pecu- liar line; besides being under the necessity of keeping up an establishment of people, horses, carriages, &c., the expenses of which would far exceed the merchant’s profit, reduced as it always must be by competition. The advantages accruing from division of labour can be en- joyed in respect of particular kinds of products only; and not in them, until their consumption has exceeded a certain point of extension. Ten workmen can make 48,000 pins in a day; but would hardly do so, unless where there was a daily con- sumption of pins to that amount; for, to arrive at this degree of division of labour, one workman must be wholly and ex- clusively occupied in sharpening the points, while the rest are severally engaged, each in a different part of the process. If there be a daily demand for no more than 24,000, he must needs lose half his day’s work, or change his occupation, in which case, the division of labour will be less extensive and complete. The limited consumption of hamlets and villages, besides obliging dealers to combine many elsewhere distinct occupa- tions, prevents many articles from finding a regular sale at all seasons. Some are not presented for sale at all, except on market or fair days; on such days the whole week’s or per- haps year’s consumption is laid in. On all other days, the dealer either travels elsewhere with his wares, or finds some other kind of occupation. In a very rich and very populous district, the consumption is so great, as to make the sale of one article only, quite as much as a trader can manage, though he devote every day in the week to the business. Fairs and markets are expedients of an early stage of national prosperity; the trade by caravans is a still earlier stage of international commerce; but even these expedients are far better than none at all. 81 For this reason, divisions of labour cannot be carried to the extreme limit, except in products capable of distant transport and the consequent increase of consumption; or where manu- facture is carried on amidst a dense population, offering an extensive local consumption. For the same reason, too, many kinds of work, the products of which are destined to instanta- neous consumption, are executed by the same individual, in places where the population is limited. In a small town or village, the same person is often barber, surgeon, doctor, and apothecary; while in a populous city, and there only, these are not merely separate and distinct occupations, but some of them are again subdivided into several branches; that of the surgeon, for instance, is split into the several occupations of dentist, oculist, accoucher, &c.; each of which practitioners, by confining his practice to a single branch of this extensive art, acquires a degree of skill, which, but for this division, he could never attain. From the necessity of the existence of a very extended con- sumption, before division of labour can be carried to its ex- treme point, it follows, that such division can never be intro- duced in the manufacture of products, which, from their high price, are placed within the reach of few purchasers. In jewellery, especially of the better kinds,.t is practised in a very limited degree; and such division being, as we have seen, one cause of the invention and application of ingenious pro- cesses, it is not surprising that such processes are least often met with in the preparation of products of highly finished workmanship. In visiting the workshop of a lapidary, one is often dazzled with the costliness of the materials, and the skill and patience of the workman; but it is only in the grand manufactories of articles of universal consumption, that one is astonished with the display of ingenuity employed to give additional expedition and perfection to the product. In look- ing at an article of jewellery, it is easy to form an idea of the tools and processes, by means of which it has been executed; whereas few people, on viewing a common stay-lace, would suppose it had been made by a horse or a current of water, which is actually the case. The same circumstance applies equally to commercial indus- try. Take the village grocer; the consumption of his groceries is so limited, as to oblige him to be at the same time haber- dasher, stationer, innkeeper, and who knows what, perhaps even news-writer and publisher; whereas in large cities, not only grocery at large, but even the sale of a single article of 40Book I= On Production important item of capital. Thus, in poor countries, we fre- quently find a product carried through all its stages, from first to last, by one and the same workman, from mere want of the capital requisite for a judicious division of the different op- erations. Of the three branches of industry, agriculture is the one that admits division of labour in the least degree. It is impossible to collect any great number of cultivators on the same spot, to use their joint exertions in the raising of one and the same product. The soil they work upon is extended over the whole surface of the globe, and obliges them to work at consider- able distance from each other. Be. sides, agriculture does not allow of one person being continually employed in the same operation. One man cannot be all the year ploughing or dig- ging, any more than another can find constant occupation in gathering in the crop. Moreover, it is very rarely that the whole of one’s land can be devoted to the same kind of cultivation, or that the same kind of cultivation can be continued on the same spot for many successive years. The land would be ex- hausted; and, supposing the cultivation of the whole property to be uniform, yet even then, the preparing and dressing of the whole ground, and the getting in of the whole of the crops, would come on at the same time, and the labourers be unoc- cupied at other periods of the year. 82 We must not however suppose, that, to effect this division of labour, it is necessary the capital should be placed all in the hands of a single adventurer, or the business conducted all within the walls of one grand establishment. A pair of boots undergoes a variety of processes, whereof all are not executed by the bootmaker alone; the grazier, the tanner, the currier, all others, who immediately or remotely furnish any substance or tool used in the making of boots, contribute to the raising of the product; and though there is a very considerable subdi- vision of labour in the making of this article, the greater part of the joint and concurrent producers may have very little command of capital. Having detailed the advantages of the subdivision of the vari- ous occupations of industry, and the extent to which it may be carried, the view of the subject would be incomplete, were we to omit noticing, on the other hand, the inconveniences that inseparably attend it. Moreover, the nature of his occupation and of agricultural products makes it highly convenient for the cultivator to raise his own vegetables, fruit, and cattle, and even to manufacture part of the tools and utensils employed in his house-keeping; though in the other channels of industry, these items of con- sumption give exclusive occupation to a number of distinct classes. A man, whose whole life is devoted to the execution of a single operation, will most assuredly acquire the faculty of executing it better and quicker than others; but he will, at the same time, be rendered less fit for every other occupation, corporeal or intellectual; his other faculties will be gradually blunted or extinguished; and the man, as an individual, will degenerate in consequence. To have never done any thing but make the eighteenth part of a pin, is a sorry account for a human being to give of his existence. Nor is it to be imagined that this degeneracy from the dignity of human nature is con- fined to the labourer, that plies all his life at the file or the hammer; men, whose professional duties call into play the finest faculties of the mind, are subject to similar degrada- tion. This division of occupations has given rise to the pro- fession of attorneys, whose sole business it is to appear in the courts of justice instead of the principals, and to follow up the different steps of the process on their behalf. These legal practitioners are, confessedly, seldom deficient in technical skill and ability; yet it is not uncommon to meet with men, even of eminence in this profession, wholly ignorant of the most simple processes of the manufactures they every day make use of; who, if they were set to work to mend the sim- plest article of their furniture, would scarcely know how to begin, and could probably not drive a nail, without exciting the risibility of every carpenter’s awkward apprentice; and if placed in a situation of a greater emergency, called upon, for instance, to save a drowning friend, or to rescue a fellow- townsman from a hostile attack, would be in a truly distress- Where concerns of industry are carried on in manufactories, in which one and the same master manufacturer conducts the product through all its stages, he can never establish any great subdivision of the various operations, without great command of capital. For such division requires larger advances of wages, of raw materials, and of tools and implements. Where eigh- teen workmen manufacture but twenty pins each per day, that is to say, in all 360 pins, weighing scarcely an ounce of metal, the daily advance of an ounce of fresh metal is enough to keep them in regular work. But if, in consequence of division of labour, these same eighteen persons can be brought, as we know they can, to produce 86,400 pins, the daily supply of raw material requisite for their regular employ will be 240 ounces weight of metal; consequently a much more consider- able advance will be called for. If we further take into calcu- lation, that there is an interval of probably a month or more, from the purchase of the metal by the manufacturer to the period of his reimbursement by the sale of his pins, we shall find that he must necessarily have at all times on hand, in different stages of progressive manufacture, 30 times 240 ounces of metal; in other words, the portion of his capital vested in raw material alone will amount to the value of 450 lbs. of metal. In addition to which, it must be observed, that the division of labour cannot be effected without the aid of various implements and machines, that form themselves an 41Jean-Baptise Say, A Treatise on Political Economy Retail commerce is the buying of wholesale dealers, and re- selling to consumers. ing perplexity; whereas a rough peasant, inhabiting a semi- barbarous district, would probably extricate himself from a similar situation with honour. The commerce of money or specie is conducted by the banker, who receives or pays on account of other people, or gives bills, orders, or letters of credit, payable elsewhere than at the place where they are given. This is sometimes called the banking trade. 86 With regard to the labouring class, the incapacity for any other than a single occupation, renders the condition of mere labourers more hard and wearisome, as well as less profit- able. They have less means of enforcing their own rights to an equitable portion of the gross value of the product. The workman, that carries about -with him the whole implements of his trade, can change his locality at pleasure, and earn his subsistence wherever he pleases= in the other case, he is a mere adjective, without individual capacity, independence, or substantive importance, when separated from his fellow- labourers, and obliged to accept whatever terms his employer thinks fit to impose. The broker brings buyers and sellers together. The persons engaged in these several branches are all agents of commercial industry, whose agency tends to approximate products to the hands of the ultimate consumer. The agency of the retailer of an ounce of pepper is quite as indispensable to the consumer, as that of the merchant, who despatches his vessel to the Moluccas for a cargo; and the only reason why these different functions are not both performed by one and the same individual is, because they can be executed with more economy and convenience by two. To enter minutely into an examination of the limits and practices of these vari- ous departments of commercial industry, would be to write a treatise on commerce. 87 All we have to do in this work is, to in. quire in what manner and degree they influence the pro- duction of values. On the whole, we may conclude, that division of labour is a skilful mode of employing human agency, that it consequently multiplies the productions of society; in other words, the pow- ers and the enjoyments of mankind; but that it in some degree degrades the faculties of man in his individual capacity. 83 84


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