Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Talmud on the Division of Labour

An interesting snippet from Freakonomics (9 May) HERE: from “Specialization Not as Recent as You May Think” by Stephen Dubner, suggesting an interesting insight in the Balbylonian Talmud:

But is specialization really the culprit — or, more pointedly, is specialization as modern a concept as is commonly thought? Consider this passage from the Babylonian Talmud (Tractate Berachot 58a), which predates Smith’s tale of the pin factory by some 1,500 years:

Ben Zoma once saw a crowd on one of the steps of the Temple Mount. He said, Blessed is He that discerneth secrets, and blessed is He who has created all these to serve me. [For] he used to say: What labours Adam had to carry out before he obtained bread to eat! He ploughed, he sowed, he reaped, he bound [the sheaves], he threshed and winnowed and selected the ears, he ground [them], and sifted [the flour], he kneaded and baked, and then at last he ate; whereas I get up, and find all these things done for me.

And how many labours Adam had to carry out before he obtained a garment to wear! He had to shear, wash [the wool], comb it, spin it, and weave it, and then at last he obtained a garment to wear; whereas I get up and find all these things done for me. All kinds of craftsmen come early to the door of my house, and I rise in the morning and find all these before me

Adam Smith was not, and never claimed to be, the discoverer of the division of labour, a well known phenonmenon by mid-18th century, nor did he claim the pin factory example as his own - though he did visit a pin factory where he saw 10 labourers undertaking the divided tasks, as he reports in Wealth Of Nationson p.15. Examples of pin factories in France, and accounts of them were already published by French authors, before and contemporary with him. In the Lost Legacy archives there is an account of these debates.


Post a Comment

<< Home