Here I run into a problem, right out of the gate. On page 22, we are told that the division of labor “is the necessary, though very slow and gradual, consequence of a certain propensity in human nature…the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.”
The claim is that the propensity to trade is a fundamentally human. “It is found in all men, and to be found in no other race of animal.”
In order to explain why I consider this wrong, it is necessary first of all to define trade. There are some who would define it narrowly: it requires explicit negotiation and agreement. Others might consider anything in which a party receives something from another while the second receives something from the first to be a trade; but Smith himself rejects this on page 23: “When an animal wants to obtain something either of a man or of another animal, it has no other means of persuasion but to gain the favor of those whose service it requires. A puppy fawns upon its dam, a spaniel endeavors by a thousand attractions to engage the attention of its master…”
It is clear that when Smith speaks of exchange, he is excluding such things as trading affection for material objects as some might claim a child does with a parent. But then, it is clear that trading is far from as universal as Smith claims. The Pygmy engages in trade with the nearby townspeople, but within his tribe, he simply shares with others in the tribe, whether they were part of the hunt or not, because that is expected. Those who are poor at hunting are teased, and often the butt of jokes; but receive no less goods than anyone else. My understanding (I speak under correction here) is that the same is true among the Australian Aboriginies. Morgan observed the same thing among the Iroquois of North America. I haven’t yet come across anything to indicate trading for necessities within any hunter-gatherer tribal group is the norm; and even trading for things other than necessities, within a tribe, seems rare from the little I’ve come accross.
So, then, if Smith is wrong about trade being a part of “human nature” (page 22, 1st paragraph), we have to look for origins of trade elsewhere than in the basic makeup of man. Does this cast his entire structure in doubt? I have no idea, not having read the rest of it yet.
I will say that it seems clear that division of labor and exchange are closely linked, each inspiring the other, so that as far as the rest of chapter 2 goes, there is much to be said for his arguments. He discussions certain sparsely settled areas (the Highlands of Scotland, for example) as requiring less division of labor than more densely settled areas, and argues that this will slow down the development of manufacture, which makes a great deal of sense.