Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Other Adam Smith

There is an interesting short article in Standpoint magazine (HT to Arts & Letters Daily) that explains why Adam Smith is still relevant, and worthy of our understanding. It does a very good job introducing this complex thinker to an audience that may have limited (or no) knowledge of his ideas beyond his role as "the father of economics." The article is worthwhile for a short introduction.

But for those of you who find yourself wanting more after reading the article, Russ Roberts is launching a book club at EconTalk. If you're not already aware, EconTalk is a site for excellent podcast interviews with noted economists on a wide-range of topics. It's an easy way to keep up on a lot of ideas when you're working in the garden, in the kitchen, or even driving.

The book for this endeavor is The Theory of Moral Sentiments by Adam Smith. For those of you whose knowledge of Adam Smith is restricted to "something about an invisible hand", or even a broader reading of his other main work, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, this will introduce you to another side of Adam Smith - one that is frequently overlooked by critics of Smith's ideas. The Theory of Moral Sentiments was Smith's first major work, and highlights his role as a philosopher and one of the leaders of the Scottish Enlightenment. In the book, Smith sees us as individuals who are motivated by a search for approval from others, as well as a natural sense of right and wrong. Because of this, one school of thought considered it as "the Adam Smith problem" - contradicting the motivations in The Wealth of Nations. But for those who have read both, it is not a problem. Rather a richer understanding of ourselves. It is not beach reading, but I found it to be fascinating. If you're looking for something to deepen and enrich your understanding of economics, this is a rare opportunity.

The EconTalk site has links to free versions of the work, a partial schedule for the club postings, as well as links to some related information that may be of interest. Even if you don't plan on reading the book, the club promises to provide some insights and information that are sure to be thought-provoking.

I look forward to your thoughts.

This post relates to the following Keystone Economic Principles:
1. We all make choices.
3. All choices have consequences.
5. Incentives produce “predictable” responses.

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