Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Wealth of Nations: Part 1

While reading the first two chapters of Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations, I am struck by his frequent use of the word "opulence" when discussing the wealth generated by the division of labour. He could have just said wealth, or possessions, or living standard, but he chose what is a rather dramatic word. The use of "opulence" reveals just how large the benefits to the division of labour are, and how impressed he was.

I am also awestruck by his superb writing.

I read these chapters while watching my students take my final exam. They are a beautiful group of people, and quite diverse in their natures and talents. They will go into a variety of careers, and all do well. It is the division of labour, I learned, that results in these differing talents, and these differing talents that help make the division of labour so valuable -- produce such opulence! Consider these superb Smith quotes...

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.

As it is this disposition which forms that difference of talents, so remarkable among men of different professions, so it is this same disposition which renders that difference useful.

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