“Man naturally desires not only to be loved, but to be lovely.”
Russ Roberts is an academic economist best known as the host of the EconTalk podcast, wherein he interviews people knowledgeable in public policy and economics. This book is his exploration of what Adam Smith had to say about living a good life. Roberts thinks it’s a shame that Smith is thought of as an economist before a moral philosopher, and seeks to remind readers through this book of the power of Smith’s moral wisdom. He focuses primarily on Smith’s book The Theory of Moral Sentiments rather than the work Smith is best known for, The Wealth of Nations, which unfortunately is commonly used to legitimize the power of venal self-interest.
How Adam Smith Could Change Your Life explores the idea of acting like you have someone, some ‘indifferent spectator’, judging your actions. Something like a conscience. The importance of introspection is also examined, along with some reasons why self-knowledge is so difficult, the corrosive pitfalls of seeking out fame, how empathy with someone is easier in good times than in bad, and how tempting but dangerous it is to make exceptions in some circumstances. “Smith admits there can be some extenuating circumstances that make the rules of justice more flexible. But he suggests that such an approach to justice is a very slippery slope. He urges us to follow the rules of justice with complete steadfastness; the more we do so, the more commendable and dependable we are.
I also enjoyed P.J. O’Rourke’s On The Wealth of Nations: Books That Changed the World. It is less insightful, but hilarious. My favorite line was, “Money has no intrinsic value. Any baby who’s eaten a nickel could tell you so.”
School of Life’s video profile on Adam Smith, along with his write-up in The Philosopher’s Mail.
Part 1 of a 6 part series of interviews with Dan Klein that inspired the book.
What the professionals had to say: The Wall Street Journal book review.
Buy from Amazon: How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness.