Smith–Ricardo Specialization in the Presence of Tiring Effects
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One of the best selling ideas economics ever had was the Smith–Ricardo paradigm of specialization, division of labor, and comparative advantage. Adam Smith (1776) wrote almost lyrically about the advantages of specialized pin-making. Through dividing the process in many tiny operations, combined with education to very specialized moments, such as polishing the nails, or wrapping them in paper, based on natural talent, Smith reported huge increases in productivity. David Ricardo (1817) then launched his theory of comparative advantage, among nations as well as among individuals, and pointed at the advantage for total productivity through total specialization when each one carried out only one particular activity. As a result, everybody should, for individual and common benefit, specialize in one special activity and be a consumer of all the other activities. The theory blows up traditional ideals of educated humanity, dissipated by for instance Baldassare Castiglione (1507) in “The Courtier”, on which most of Western education was based for centuries. If you are a brain surgeon, you should operate brains and not paint or make music yourself, because it is better to go to a concert or a gallery in your free time to enjoy the production of other specialists, who, of course, perform their specialized tasks better. Traditional craftwork, with its alternation between very diverse and sometimes enjoyable operations, is superseded by work at the endless conveyor belt.
KeywordsWage Rate Comparative Advantage Efficiency Frontier Efficient Work Complete Specialization
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- Ricardo D (1817) Principles of political economy and taxation. Everymans Library Reprint, 1912Google Scholar
- Smith A (1776) An inquiry into the nature and causes of the wealth of nations. Everymans Library, 1910Google Scholar