THE FIRST MODERN TREATMENT OF
SPECIALISATION AND DIVISION OF LABOUR

Another essay in political arithmetick, concerning the growth of the City of London: with the measures, periods, causes, and consequences thereof.

1682. London, printed by H.H. for Mark Pardoe, 1683.

8vo, pp. 47, [1]; titlepage lightly dusted, preliminary leaf with short marginal tear stemming from paper flaw, small paper flaw to C1 just touching the text, unobtrusive worm track to lower margin of last leaves, but a crisp copy, uncut, stitched as issued.

£12000

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Another essay in political arithmetick, concerning the growth of the City of London: with the measures, periods, causes, and consequences thereof.

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First edition, exceptionally scarce – indeed unique in its uncut and unbound state – of Petty’s first work of political arithmetic, a landmark work of statistics, demography, and economics.

Likely written in Ireland and sent to the printer upon Petty’s return to London in June 1682, the Essay analyses demographic data charting the life of London from 1665 to 1682. Petty’s first contention (of a set of twelve) is ‘That London doubles in Forty Years, and all England in Three hundred and sixty Years’; his last is ‘That an Exact Account of the People is Necessary in this Matter’. His informing of the study both with ‘measures, periods’ and ‘causes and consequences thereof’ speaks of an intent that embraces statistics and politics – a groundbreaking methodology that would shape the two disciplines themselves, as well as what later Carlyle described as the ‘dismal science’ of economics.

It is in economics that Petty’s Essay stands as a landmark point of departure. His exposition of the nature and implications of the division of labour is the first modern, data-informed treatment of this idea. Petty’s intuition of the centrality of the effects of specialisation would later be developed by such diverse economists as Mandeville, Ferguson, Hume and Adam Smith, Turgot, Ricardo, Babbage, Mill, Marx, Marshall, Sraffa, and Hayek. Whether in extolling the emancipating effects of efficiency achieved though specialisation, or in decrying the servitude to capital fostered by such efficiency; whether by recognising the natural presence of a variety of skills in society, or by evaluating the alienating effects of the assembly line, all have engaged with the crucible of the relationship between people, labour, and technology. Artificial Intelligence takes this question forwards into a micro-division of binary switches and broadens it to tasks that are seen as creative rather than mechanical: the particulars may yet to be fully charted, but the underlying societal choices remain informed by the debate over efficiency, alienation, and the nature of work.

‘The title page [Another essay…] implies that an Essay in Political Arithmetic had already been published, though in fact the present Essay was the first that was printed’ (Keynes). An explanation was added in the 1686 reprint entitled An Essay Concerning the Multiplication of Mankind: apparently an ‘extract of a Letter’ had been incorrectly assumed to have been the earlier essay.

ESTC R21001; Goldsmiths’ 2515; Hill, p. 310; Keynes 19; Kress 1590; not in Einaudi, Mattioli, or Sraffa.

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