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Below is Adam Smith’s famous Pin Factory example detailing the benefit of a specified Division of Labor. This single paragraph has evolved to be one of the most heavily referenced tropes in all of political economy. Detailing the advantage of job specialization over having one person complete production from start to finish. The proliferation of job specialization is what has allowed for technological advancement and the development of more complex goods.

“…TO take an example, therefore,’-‘ from very trifling manufacture; making, but one in which the division of labour has been very often taken notice of, the trade of the pin-maker; a workman not educated to this business (which the division of labour has rendered a distinct trade), _ nor acquainted with the use of the machinery employed in it (to the invention of which the same division of labour has probably given occasion), could scarce, perhaps, with his utmost industry, make one pin in a day, and certainly could not make twenty. But in the way in which this business is now carried on, not only the whole work is a peculiar trade, but it is divided into a number of branches, of which the greater part are likewise peculiar trades. One man draws out the wire, another straights it, a third cuts it, a fourth points it, a fifth grinds it at the top for receiving the head ; to make the head requires two or three distinct operations; to put it on, is a peculiar business, to whiten the pins is another; it is even a trade by itself to put them into the paper; mad the important business of making a pin is, in this manner, divided into about eighteen distinct operations, which, in some manufactories, are all performed by distinct hands, though in others the same man will sometimes perform two or three of them. I have seen a small manufactory of this kind where ten men only were employed, and where some of them consequently performed two or three distinct operations. But though they were very poor, and therefore but indifferently accommodated with the necessary machinery, they could, when they exerted themselves, make among them about twelve pounds of pins in a day. There are in a pound upwards of four thousand pins of a middling size. Those ten persons, therefore, could make among them upwards of forty-eight thousand pins in a day…”(Wealth of Nations, 1776, p.54-55)

See Interactive Pin Factory at Adam Smith Works (Click Here).

11 thoughts on “Adam Smith’s Pin Factory

  1. The division of labor seems to be the most practical means for achieving greater efficiency (something the Scottish philosophers arguably made more explicit). Smith also possessed impressive insight into the nature of spontaneous orders, for example, the “invisible hand.”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Most of the insights of Smith were incredible especially considering the social conditions of 18th century Scotland.

      However, I do believe there are limitations on the Division of Labor. Considering the Law of Dimminishing Returns is in fact an economic law, wouldn’t it also apply to the Division of Labor?

      Liked by 1 person

  2. one of the things I like the most about this famous example is the level of empirical detail in adam smith’s analysis; unlike Plato’s godlike philosopher-king, Smith spends time in a pin factory and carefully reports its inner workings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Empirical analysis was the crowning achievement of the Scottish Enlightenment. The work of Hume and Smith has even been influential in some aspects of scientific research. I maybe incorrect in this assumption. Empircal analysis coupled with the scientific method (experimentation) seems to be cornerstone of modern science.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. Similar to what Orwell did prior to writing The Road to Wigan Pier. I don’t know of any contemporary socialist that has voluntarily descended to the slums for the purpose of acquiring a first-hand look at poverty.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I actually think that more Socialists should do that ( visit the slums, not necessarily write books).Most of the Socialism advocates I have met are relatively sheltered people from an upper middle-class background.

        What better way to truly understand poverty then to live in it for brief duration of time.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Agreed.

          Orwell writes : “As with the Christian religion, the worst advertisement for Socialism is its adherents.”

          And (somewhat analogous to your comment),

          “Sometimes I look at a Socialist —-
          the intellectual, tract-writing type of Socialist,
          with his pullover, his fuzzy hair, and his Marxian quotation —-
          and wonder what the devil his motive really is….

          Liked by 1 person

      2. I should clarify, really can’t stand sanctimony, hypocrisy, and pretension that many well off socialists express when they claim to speak for the poor.

        I loathe the “White Knight” complex in the Progressive Movement. People need the freedom prosper not a rescue raft. The rescue raft is often deployed with the utmost condescension. These are people, not props for political gain.

        Liked by 1 person

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