I’m only 10 pages into it and I can see the profound influence this idea of a division of labor has, not only on understanding economic development, but understanding social/power relations. For Adam Smith, specialization is the unique characteristic that differentiates the enlightened West from its “savage” neighbors. The “peasant” in places where there is a pronounced division of labor is made better off the by accumulation of “things” he/she is able to acquire through being able to sell the labor that is made valuable through his/her own specialization. He even extends this to philosophers and scientists, but that’s for another day….

The extent to which specialization is employed to reinforce superiority along cultural lines is startling, but not unexpected for the times. This is a particularly instructive passage:

It may be true perhaps that the accommodation of a European prince does not always so much exceed that of an industrious and frugal peasant as the accommodation of the latter exceeds that of many an African king, the absolute master of the lives and liberties of ten thousand naked savages (117)

Because the “industrious” and “frugal” peasant trades his specialized labor for “things,” he is better accommodated than the leader of “ten thousand naked savages.” What an dismissal of the synthetic knowledge those “naked savages” had and have about how to organize a meaningful and rewarding life. This is the great crime (and perhaps virtue?) of colonialism — the arrogance to employ a specific frame about how the world should be upon those who did not seek it. Applying this logic to today, you wonder how societies can be integrative (e.g. having the ability to specialize in ways Smith discusses while having the ability to cultivate more integrated ways of knowing necessary for the development of full human beings). Can we specialize and synthesize at the same time?