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The Wealth of What Nation

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Philosophers from different parts of history are still studied today all over the world. The works of people like Socrates and Ibn Sina, which were written thousands of years ago, are still continuing to be discussed by intellectuals. So why is philosophy so important? Why must we continue to discuss the works of people who lived in ancient times? Well interestingly enough, the works of these philosophers are still relevant today. We can look at contemporary issues today, and compare how philosophers back then viewed them. Have views changed? Have they stayed the same? One philosopher in particular whose work still resonates and relates to current issues in our world today is Adam Smith, most notable his philosophy written in ​’The Wealth of Nations’​. We can compare Smith’s work to the garment industry crisis we see today in our society. Smith discusses how he feels about mercantilism and how laborers are treated during his time; which we can compare to how workers in Bangladesh are being treated today.

To understand the elements of Smith’s work, we must first look into who Adam Smith was and what issues were going on during his time which motivated him to write ​’The Wealth of Nations​’. Smith wrote ‘​The Wealth of Nations’ ​during the same time period that the United States was ending its revolution with Great Britain and becoming its own independent nation. This meant that Great Britain was losing one of its colonies which Smith saw as a good thing. He believed that it was better to have independent nations because Great Britain was spending morem on the countries they had as colonies than they were really worth and he was interested in the idea of free trade between nations. Smith then goes on to discuss his writings on an array of topics; all centered around the economics of his time period. He discusses the division of labor, market price vs natural price, supply and demand, and how capitalism affects the working class.

‘The ​Wealth of Nations’ ​in a broad sense, is a discussion about the economy, capitalism, and mercantilism. In Chapter 1 of Book 1, Smith goes into detail about what the division of labor is. Division of labor is when different people in a factory do their own individual tasks, so that production increases. For instance, if a production line was making a table, one person would make one leg, one would make the top of the table, another makes the other leg, and so on. Each person would be assigned to their own specific job that they felt best showed off their strengths. In Bangladesh, the workers work on a production line. Sewing specific parts of shirts each day, much like the type of work Smith is talking about.

Smith’s discussion of the division of labor and the value of money relates to the crisis in our global garment industry today. Major companies in the United States such as Walmart and Gap have factories located in Bangladesh where workers manufacture all of their clothing. Companies like Gap and Walmart have their work done overseas because it costs a lot less to pay for their employers and supplies. This however has made way for many ethical problems. As of 2013, laborers in Bangladesh were getting paid as little as $68 a month for their work in the factories. The pay they were recieving contrasts with Smith’s view on wages. In Book 1, Chapter 8 of ​’The Wealth of Nations’​, Smith discussed his views on how much wage laborers should get paid. Smith explains that laborers should be paid enough to survive because they need to keep themselves alive or else they will see no point in going to work. He then goes on to explain that the minimum wage might in fact need to be higher than that because the working class needs to make enough money to keep their children alive and therefore keep the working class alive as a whole, so there can be another generation of working class civilians. As we can see in Bangladesh, this is not the case.

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Smith argues that when a society is ‘pure of liberty’ then capitalism in fact can be moral. Workers in Bangladesh, nonetheless, do not necessarily have the liberty to stop working. In addition to being paid almost nothing, many of the workers in Bangladesh do not get any recognition for their hard work. For example, the companies we discussed before do not exactly show off to their consumers how their products are really made. This is because, these workers face horrible conditions and don’t get any compensation from these multi-million dollar companies when they face hardship. In 2013, a garment factory building, the Rana Plaza, located in Savar Upazila, Bangladesh collapsed. This collapse killed more than 1,135 workers and injured around 2,500. The worst part, this could have been prevented. The workers who were working at the Rana Plaza had felt unsafe going into work and told their managers how they felt. However, when brought to their attention, the managers threatened to withhold the workers pay if they did not go to work. The workers hardly make a wage they can live on, so they took the risk. These workers do not have the liberty to not go to work if they want to make enough money to survive.

The way that the companies who were responsible for these workers went about responding to this tragedy was just as terrible. The families of the workers who died in the factory collapse did not receive any compensation. Many of these workers were providing for their families and now they are left with nothing. These workers are treated with the same amount of disrespect as slaves. These large companies do not seem to care about the worker’s well-being, but just about what they can do to help their companies progress in the cheapest possible way. This relates to Smith’s argument on the relationship between waged workers and slaves. Smith believes that wage laborers are actually cheaper than owning slaves. He thinks this because of how the systems are set up. Firstly, slaves are set up to have no reason to want to do work because they are not getting paid and they do not respect the people they are working for. Wage laborers however, have the incentive of getting paid and the slight change they can get promoted for working harder, so wage laborers, Smith believes, work harder than slaves.

Another reason Smith feels as though wage laborers are cheaper to maintain is because they spend their own money on feeding themselves or spending on resources they need when they are sick. When someone owns a slave, they have to pay themselves to feed them and buy them necessities they need to survive. Although this mindset is dark, it does not seem so far off from the beliefs of the corporate leaders who exploit their workers in foreign countries every single day as a way to create cheap clothes.

Although some of Smith’s arguments give the idea that he is against capitalism, he actually believes capitalism is productive and moral when the society is well governed. However, the crisis in Bangladesh does not fall under the idea of a ‘well-governed society’. When innocent civilians are being exploited for their work, not getting paid what they deserve and have to deal with terrible work conditions, it does not look like Smith’s idea of a moral capitalistic society. Issues like these have been swept under the rug for so long that most consumers do not even know the backstory of their clothing. Capitalism should not go as far as to put the lives of innocent civilians in danger when all they want is to make a living. Clothing is a basic necessity for human beings, but at what cost.

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The Wealth of What Nation. (2022, August 25). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 5, 2023, from
“The Wealth of What Nation.” Edubirdie, 25 Aug. 2022,
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