PJ O'Rourke on reading the right Adam Smith
In his latest book, for the Atlantic series "Books That Changed the world", O'Rourke finds that the ideas in Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations are inextricably linked with his Theory of Moral Sentiments, and says he wrote about the wrong book. He wishes he had written about Moral Sentiments instead.
In an interview with the Pittsburgh Tribune, the political satirist says that Smith's work is "really about freedom and morality and not actually about economics." In so far as his work does address economics, "it blows you away. . .When Smith starts out right at the beginning about how you have to allow for the human desire for self-betterment or self-interest. And how you have to have freedom of exchange between people. That is so fundamental, not only to making an economy work right, but just to any decent democracy or society."
O'Rourke observes that "any understanding of the fundamental philosophical and moral and ethical groundwork beneath free markets seems to be just absent" today. Partly, he says, this is because Wealth of Nations is a slog. Partly this is because we don't read the eminently readable and brilliant Moral Sentiments, which does provide the ethical foundation for free markets.