This section is from the "The Science Of Wealth" book, by Amasa Walker.
In some countries, a man wishing for a chair goes into the forest, fells a tree, carries the timber to his workshop, forms the parts, and puts them together into a chair. It is a rude and imperfect article, but it has cost him the labor of two days.
In other communities, we find a chair, equally serviceable and far more elegant, produced by the labor of half a day. Here one man cuts the timber, another transports to the mill, another saws it into suitable dimensions, another forms the legs, another the seat, another the back, another puts the parts together, while still another paints it. A great many chairs are produced by the combined labor of many individuals ; and the result is, that one chair has the value of only half a day's labor. Three-fourths of the labor employed in the making of chairs is, then, liberated, to rest in idleness, or to apply itself to further production with still increasing results, as the desires which control efforts shall determine. We cannot be ignorant, that, in some communities, labor, when set free, does waste itself in idleness and frolic. But this is true chiefly of those in which leisure is bestowed, not by man's contrivance, but by the generosity of Nature. Here the power of labor is too often corrupted by the very luxuriance of growth, which gives it great opportunities, and opens a world to its easy conquest.
But it may safely be assumed, that such an industrial genius in a people, as seeks to lessen present labor by the distribution of its several offices, will find fresh objects of desire. The very thoughtfulness and care, the social confidence, and mutuality of service, which are required to effect a division of labor, insure such a susceptibility to new industrial wants as shall necessitate the employment of all the labor so relieved.
The savage who can provide himself with clothing, shelter, and food in twenty days of the year, may be willing to spend the rest of the time in doing nothing. But it was never heard that men came together to do any thing, and remain content to do nothing more. The full discussion and illustration of this principle, which governs the use of labor saved, belongs to the third inquiry; viz., that of " Economic Culture." We have here, strictly, to show only how labor is saved by the division of employments. This forms the great fact of modern industrial civilization. We shall find it the most important condition of production, multiplying all its powers faster than the soil multiplies the seed. Here is more of the explanation of wealth than can be found in all other inquiries. This force is being rapidly introduced into every department of industry, and will finally become as general as the nature of the different employments will admit. We do not find that it has yet reached its ultimate limit in any sphere of human activity. We shall give its phenomena and its principles special attention ; for the greatest interests of society, moral as well as economical, connect themselves with it.
What is the significance of division of labor, as expressed in the fewest words? It is, that each workman confine himself to a single operation.
In this way, all great and successful manufactures are carried on.
Take, for illustration, that of boots. One person cuts the fronts; one crimps; one cuts in; one cuts out the backs, one the linings; one pastes together; one strips out the sole leather; one cuts the soles ; one makes the heels; one stiches the backs; one sides up; one binds; one bottoms; one buffs ; one trees; one packs, marks, &c. Here are sixteen persons employed in the production of a single boot. In many cases, a still further division of the parts is made with success. In passing, it may be remarked, that, of those operations, seven are performed by the aid of machines, as distinguished in popular acceptation from tools, which latter are controlled by the hand, and have all their motive power in the muscular force of man.
As long ago as Adam Smith wrote, it took sixteen persons to make a pin.
Such, in description, is division of labor. Let us consider its advantages, limitations, and disadvantages.