Monday, June 5, 2023

Quote of the Day (P. J. O’Rourke, on Adam Smith)

“None of us, in fact, take the axioms of Adam Smith as givens — not unless what's given to us are vast profits, enormous salaries, and huge year-end bonuses resulting from unfettered markets, low labor costs, increased productivity, and current Federal Reserve policy. Like the AFL-CIO, France, and various angry and addled street protestors, we quarrel with Adam Smith. If this is to be an intelligent squabble we need to examine Smith's side of the argument in full. The Wealth of Nations is — as my generation used to say when my generation was relevant — relevant.”— American humorist P. J. O’Rourke (1947-2022), On “The Wealth of Nations”: Books That Changed the World (2006)

We don’t know the exact birthdate for the Enlightenment economist and philosopher Adam Smith, but he was baptized three centuries ago today in Kirkcaldy, Scotland.

Normally, to begin or end the workweek, I choose a humorous quote to get their minds off hard days at the office (or, more recently, the virtual office. In observance of this milestone related to Smith, I hoped to find jokes by or at least about him.

As you might expect, the author of The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments was not exactly the wisecracking type. Still, you’d hope at least other economists (or maybe someone who played one, like Ben Stein) might have gotten off a joke about his work. But no such luck, reinforcing why economics is known as “the dismal science.”

So the best I could do here was this quote from P. J. O’Rourke.

I don’t think Smith should be regarded as devoutly as many libertarians are wont to do. But I will give O’Rourke this: for someone whose work has influenced the course of the West as that other Enlightenment document that also came out the same year as The Wealth of Nations, The Declaration of Independence, Smith’s work does indeed remain relevant.

I should say here that I particularly like this Smith quote I noted in a prior post.

(For a vigorous attack on the belief that Smith accepted inequality as a necessary tradeoff for a more prosperous economy, I urge you to read Deborah Boucoyannis’ 2014 post on the “Politics and Policy” blog of the London School of Economics.)

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