Towards the end of the three centuries that we today call the early modern period, Adam Smith awarded labour a key role in his influential economic theory. His Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations circulated widely in English and in many translations all over Europe immediately after its publication in 1776. Smith (1986: bk. 1, chapter 5:133) proclaimed: ‘What is bought with money or with goods is purchased by labour, as much as what we acquire by the toil of our own body.’ Smith was also well aware of the historical significance of the mobilization of labour (ibid.):

Every man is rich or poor according to the degree in which he can afford to enjoy the necessaries, conveniences, and amusements of human life. But after the division of labour has once thoroughly taken place, it is but a very small part of these with which a man’s own labour can supply him. The far greater part of them he must derive from the labour of other people, and he must be rich or poor according to the quantity of that labour which he can command, or which he can afford to purchase.