Power and Wealth: Reputations and Rivalries in Steam Culture
‘Labour’, asserted the Scottish moral philosopher Adam Smith in his An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776), ‘is the real measure of the exchangeable value of all commodities’. As such, labour was the key to understanding the wealth of nations since the total ‘annual labour of every nation is the fund which originally supplies it with all the necessaries and conveniences of life which it annually consumes’. Moreover, the wealth of a nation was regulated on the one hand by ‘the skill, dexterity, and judgment with which its labour is generally applied’ (Smith’s famous ‘division of labour’) and on the other by ‘the proportion between those who are employed in useful labour, and that of those who are not so employed’. Reversing Thomas Hobbes’s seventeenth-century dictum that ‘wealth is power’, Smith effectively made ‘useful labour’ or ‘power’ the basis of ‘real’ wealth for nation and empire.2
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