#WealthofTweets: Book 1.8

labor markets slavery teach adam smith east india company #wealthoftweets #smithtweets mystery of poverty read the wealth of nations labor and wages demand for labor child labor slaveowners

Of the Wages of Labor

Sarah Skwire and Janet Bufton for @AdamSmithWorks

11 Jan • 23 tweets • adamsmithworks/status/1348641050525655041

Good morning, Smithketeers! Time for Book One, Chapter 8 of # AdamSmith's #WealthOfNations. Today, we're talking wages. Not that they're a topic with any contemporary relevance, or anything. #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

The things we make by working are the natural wage of our labor. Which is great if SmithTweeters want to get paid in SmithTweets. (I.viii.1) #WeDont #TweetsWontBuyHousesByTheSea #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

It’s a state of nature story, like Locke or Hobbes or Rousseau, but Smith’s state of nature is defined by the product of each person’s labor belonging to that person. Sounds great, but again, we don’t want to get paid in SmithTweets. (I.viii.2) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

And it couldn’t last anyway, once we had property and land ownership. Once you have landlords who rent out their land, that whole state of nature arrangement ends. You have to pay rent. (I.viii.5–6) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Smith doesn’t see this as good or bad. It’s just the truth of the situation, with very few exceptions. But he DOES see the problems when masters combine against labor. (I.viii.9–13) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

He definitely seems to have a sense that there’s a level below which wages cannot fall, because workers won’t accept them. (I.viii.15) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

The calculations Smith does here, on child mortality and the need to raise children and support a family, are a grim reminder of how the good old days aren’t. (I.viii.15) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

It’s the increase in national wealth that drives the demand for labor. That means that rapidly growing nations (like those American colonies) have a huge demand for labor and high wages. Stagnant nations do not. (I.viii.21–24 #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Smith, throwin’ a little shade at the East India Co., and not for the last time. Wait'll we get to Book 4. They'll need burn cream. (I.viii.26) #WealthOfTweets

Governance matters. The British constitution in the UK and North America had allowed the poor to better their condition, but East India Co. governance led to stagnation, impoverishment, and even starvation. (I.viii.26–27) # WealthOfTweets # SmithTweets

People don’t like to relocate for $$ if they can manage where they are. Smith thinks that means the laboring poor of England are content. We wonder if he’s thought about the costs of moving? He probably has because he’s Smith but still. (I.viii.31)#WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Smith doesn’t really like oatmeal. Like, at all. (I.viii.33) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets


Have you noticed Smith always assumes children will work? This isn’t because he’s “in favor” of child labor. It’s because that’s just how it was for most of human history. If you could work, you did. Didn’t matter how old you were. (I.viii.34) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Poverty is always with us, but that doesn’t mean we have to be resigned to it. No nation can flourish if most of its people are poor. (I.viii.36) #WealthOfTweets

(Okay, Smith’s theory on childbirth is weird to modern ears. Wealthy women are more often barren than poor women? Seems unlikely, but it’s the governing theory of the time. We could discuss at great length, but will spare you.) (I.viii.37) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Again, Smith on child mortality. These numbers can break your heart. He's making a moral argument for the importance of the market. (I.viii.38) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Smith on slavery. We’re going to point you to Jack Weinstein here and note that Smith assumes that slaves are owned by negligent & careless people. He is NOT a fan of slavery or slaveholders. (I.viii.41) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Unlike slavery, good wages produce hard work and happy people. Smith is a fan of good wages. And so are we! (I.viii.44) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

Piecework is bad because it encourages workers to overwork themselves. Good thing we aren't paid by the tweet! (I.viii.44) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

It’s wrong to assume that low wages inspire hard work and high wages inspire laziness. Why would anyone say so? Masters find "humble and dependent" workers easier to handle, so masters claim that low wages are good for industry. (I.viii.45–50) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

In reality, though, low wages produce sick and dispirited workers. High wages produce healthy and productive ones. We know which we think is better for everyone! (I.viii.45–50) #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

The higher the wages, the more workers want to work, the more scope for the division of labor. And we know what that means…everyone gets richer! (I.viii.57) #Yay #WealthOfTweets #SmithTweets

See Also: The AdamSmithWorks Reading Guide for this chapter.