HOW ADAM SMITH FOUND INSPIRATION IN FRENCH TEXTS ON PIN MAKING IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY - Université de La Réunion Access content directly
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HOW ADAM SMITH FOUND INSPIRATION IN FRENCH TEXTS ON PIN MAKING IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY

Jean-Louis Peaucelle
Cameron Guthrie
  • Function : Author

Abstract

Adam Smith found inspiration in French texts on pin-making to illustrate his theory of the division of labour. He used secondary sources that, we argue influenced his understanding of the strong division of labour and opportunities for productivity improvements in the pin-making industry. The original and secondary texts are examined here to understand how Smith interpreted them to develop his theory. Additional archival sources describing French pin-making in the eighteenth century are also studied and are shown to partially contradict Smith's theory of the division of labour. Adam Smith used four French sources on pin-making: Journal des sçavans, 1761, Delaire's article " Pin " in Diderot's Encyclopaedia 1755, Duhamel's The pinmaker's art, 1761, and Macquer's Portative arts and crafts dictionary 1766 (Peaucelle, 2006). At the time, other French texts also described French pin making, including activities in Normandy. They were either manuscripts based on field observations, published dictionary items or articles in serial publications on the arts and crafts (Peaucelle, 2007). These technical texts are relatively unknown both in and outside of France. The objective of this article is to examine how Adam Smith used them to develop his theory on the division of labour. We detail their content and origin to highlight Smith's influences as well as the points he omitted in his work. A number of technical and numerical details are given to remain faithful to the original texts and to avoid misrepresentations. In the first part of our text, we study all the eighteenth century French pin making texts. These texts are closely linked and copy one another. Copying without quoting was common practice for the time. We will pay particular attention to an original feature in this technical literature: the link between the practical and the economical aspects of pin-making. While emphasis was placed on the tools and the worker's motions, production rhythms and wages were also often given. The value added per pin-maker (Billettes, 1700) and the cost price per pin (Perronet, 1765) are two economical aspects which were computed before that of " productive power " by Adam Smith. It was the only case in the French arts and crafts descriptions that an economic analysis completed a technical description. In the second section, we debate how Adam Smith interpreted the French pin-making texts, the information he selected and the conclusions he drew about the pin making industry. We will see that the original texts do not support Smith's analysis. The workers were specialized in eight or nine trades, and not eighteen as Smith understood. In a workshop there were many workers for heading but very few for cutting the pins, for example. Attempts to divide this latter operation further were unsuccessful One of the original texts that Smith did not consult also provides an example of production without specialisation where productivity was a hundred times higher than Adam Smith
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Dates and versions

hal-01403681 , version 1 (27-11-2016)

Identifiers

  • HAL Id : hal-01403681 , version 1

Cite

Jean-Louis Peaucelle, Cameron Guthrie. HOW ADAM SMITH FOUND INSPIRATION IN FRENCH TEXTS ON PIN MAKING IN THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY: History of Economic Ideas. XIX, 2011/3, 41-67. 2011. ⟨hal-01403681⟩

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