Wage-Labor and Capital by karl marx and adam smith

An inquiry in to the nature and causes of the wealth of nations is a masterpiece that was written by Adam Smith and was subsequently published in 1776.  Primarily, it was an account of the economic situation that characterized the industrial revolution. The intended audience for the piece of writing was the segment of the public that was educated and therefore could understand the economic dynamics that characterized the era. The fact that it employed a rhetorical style indicates that it had the ability to invoke a reflective attitude in the audience with regard to the changes that were being experienced at that particular time. Essentially, it sought to propose a free market economy that could enable the entire population to engage in production.

Wage-Labor and Capital on the other hand was an essay that was written by Karl Marx in 1847. In this, he explored various economic themes and theories and provided an observation of the then economic situation. Among the various theories that it explored was the labor power that distinguished the notions of labor and labor power. Because of the fact that employs numerous technical as well as scientific terms, it implies that its audience was the segment of the population that understood basic economics.

Comparatively, Karl Marx’s Wage-Labor and capital can be considered to be a more reliable source than Adam Smith’s An Inquiry in to the nature and causes of wealth of nations. This is due to the fact that the latter explores economic ideals that had not been experienced at that particular time. As such, the credibility of the content is largely at stake as it could have relied on other sources without acknowledging them accordingly[1]. In addition, it is indicated that the source underwent editing before publication after the death of the author. In this regard, Kathleen posits that such measures are likely to alter the initial content of the source[2].

Notably, the labor theory of value is based upon the principle of production. Both authors appreciated the fact that production augmented the economic wellbeing of the society. According to them, it was at the core of the economy and without it, there would be no consumption. They agreed that it benefited both the individuals and the society at large. In addition, they contended that production was highly depended on labor. This led them to consider the labor theory of value in the economic analysis.

Just like Smith, Marx agreed that the value of a product was directly related to the amount of labor that was employed in the production of the same. Thus the price of the product according to them needs to be the same as the cost of the labor employed in its production. In his view of the labor theory, Smith contends that the ultimate worth of the product reflects the amount of labor and time used in the production process[3].

The two authors assume different approaches when analyzing the roots of the value of products. From his point of view, Marx believes that the labor value constitutes an intrinsic quality of a product[4]. He maintains that it is determined by the amount of labor and posits that this intrinsic value of a product is constant and does not change or is not affected by different external factors such as the political environment and time. Thus value according to him is objective and therefore can be determined through calculations.

In contrast, Smith employs the notions of exchange value and use value when explaining the sources of the value of a product. Unlike Marx who considers the value of the product to be independent of the consumer, Smith argues that the value of the product is largely determined by the spectator sentiment. In this regard, he affirms that the production process requires a certain period of time whose value is determined by the consumer. In other words, he argues that consumers sympathize with the producer and this explains why they accept the value of the product. In addition, Smith explored the principle of the natural price and presumed that it needs to compensate for the pain, time and risk employed in production.

Further, Marx indicated that the wage of the worker needs to be determined by the society and should reflect the amount of resources employed in nurturing the laborer to be fit for production. He argues that the profits that accrue from the products belong to the laborers and need to be availed to them. Thus according to him, a capitalistic society is governed by unfair principles because it denies the workers their rightful earnings. In this regard, he contended that it was a form of economic exploitation that greatly disadvantaged the poor within the society. In contrast, Smith perceived a capitalistic society to be the most ideal because individuals are given an equal chance to participate in competition. According to his view, Smith contends that all individuals have an equal access to natural resources that they should optimally explore. At this juncture, it is clear that he contests Marx’s prepositions regarding capitalism as it relates to labor.

The differing views of the two authors reflect their varied perceptions of economic liberalism and early socialism. These are influenced by their experiences in the economic sphere. To begin with, Marx’s prepositions imply that the then society was characterized by economic exploitation. His sentiments show that the rich over exploited the labor of the poor at their advantage. Notably, this is influenced significantly by the then industrial revolution that was characterized by dehumanizing working conditions.   On the contrary, Smith’s perceptions indicate that his society exercised economic freedom. This is because of the fact that working conditions had improved significantly and people had access to a wide variety of natural resources. Thus each segment of the population whether poor or rich had a chance to explore the economic opportunities related to attain assets and use the same to gain profits.


Adam, Smith. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations, 1776.

Craver, Kathleen. Using Primary Sources .UK: Greenwood, 1999.

Karl, Marx. Wage-Labor and Capital, 1847.

Martha, Howell. From Reliable Sources .Cambridge: University Press, 2001

[1] Martha, Howell. From Reliable Sources (Cambridge: University Press, 2001), p. 26.

[2] Craver, Kathleen. Using Primary Sources (UK: Greenwood, 1999), p. 49.

[3] Adam, Smith. An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Wealth of Nations, 1776, p. 4

[4]Karl, Marx. Wage-Labor and Capital, 1847, p.12.

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