Adam Smith on division of labor

Call me an idealist but I agree with the enlightenment philosopher Adam Smith when it comes to people’s abilities. I believe the effects of division of labor, education and character are responsible for a persons lot in life and not genius or genetic ability. It is a fairy-tale and lie of some modern academics to attribute too much emphasis on innate ability or genetics and not education and character.

Believe me, I have had enough experience in business to see the arrogant proclaim themselves a genius. However it is a real genius like Adam Smith who can explain the reason for success more clearly, than any modern academic, or big headed corporate warrior.  Adam Smith wrote that division of labor, education and character, not genetics is what is important.

Adam Smith on division of labor

Adam Smith writes more eloquently than I so here is his quote.

The difference of natural talents in different men, is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education. When they came in to the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were, perhaps, very much alike, and neither their parents nor play-fellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance.

This is division of labor according to Adam Smith. This is how Adam Smith saw why some people are rich and others are not.

How can it be make more clear. We all add up to 100% and our work and character brings us talent and not the other way around.  Marcus Aurelius wrote ‘character is destiny’. I do not know why people have forgotten this and are blaming everyone else for problems and expecting the government to take the lead in fixing them.

Market and division of labor

In the Wealth of Nations Smith went on to comment how specialization of labor was limited by market conditions.

When the market is very small, no person can have any encouragement to dedicate himself entirely to one employment, for want of the power to exchange all that surplus part of the produce of his own labour, which is over and above his own consumption, for such parts of the produce of other men’s labour as he has occasion for.

With globalization this no longer applies to a modern economy and people with the Internet. It is more about developing a specialization that will pay.

If you want to make money and have a successful life try specializing in something that is a high paying profession. Instead of digging ditches or pushing paper in the office, try to develop a niche skill and market it. I do not think school is the best way to develop your specialization, but rather just buy a book and learn it yourself.  I am a big believer in the ideal of the enlightenment and clear courageous thinking like the philosophy of Adam Smith. The classics really do contain the keys to live a better life and work.

Leave a Reply