Adam Smith on How to Make the Working Class Happier and More Productive: Pay Them More
[Via Grasping Reality with Both Hands: Economist Brad DeLong’s Fair, Balanced, and Reality-Based Semi-Daily Journal]
Adam Smith:Smith: Wealth of Nations, Book I, Chapter 8: “The liberal reward of labour…
…as it encourages the propagation, so it increases the industry of the common people…. A plentiful subsistence increases the bodily strength of the labourer, and the comfortable hope of bettering his condition, and of ending his days perhaps in ease and plenty, animates him to exert that strength to the utmost. Where wages are high, accordingly, we shall always find the workmen more active, diligent, and expeditious, than where they are low; in England, for example, than in Scotland; in the neighbourhood of great towns, than in remote country places. Some workmen, indeed, when they can earn in four days what will maintain them through the week, will be idle the other three. This, however, is by no means the case with the greater part.
Workmen, on the contrary, when they are liberally paid by the piece, are very apt to over-work themselves, and to ruin their health and constitution in a few years. A carpenter in London, and in some other places, is not supposed to last in his utmost vigour above eight years. Something of the same kind happens in many other trades, in which the workmen are paid by the piece; as they generally are in manufactures, and even in country labour, wherever wages are higher than ordinary. Almost every class of artificers is subject to some peculiar infirmity occasioned by excessive application to their peculiar species of work. Ramuzzini, an eminent Italian physician, has written a particular book concerning such diseases….
He then went on to say that capitalists should moderate the working conditions of their laborers, rather than working them to death. Better to make a little less during the good years in order to make more during the lean.
The Wealth of Nations does not really say what so many say it does. But then Smith was sure things would be run my moral and ethical people.