How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life (2014) by Russ Roberts presents a summation of Adam Smith’s book The Theory of Moral Sentiments and how the wisdom in it still applies to the modern world. Roberts is known by many for his superb podcast Econtalk where he interviews various people for about an hour and allows them to present their ideas in detail.
The book looks at Adam Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith’s morality is based on reason and a plethora of psychological motives. Smith believes we want others to be happy but care more about ourselves. Robert’s also states that Smith believed we acted morally because we wanted to be loved and to be lovely and that we judge ourselves and want that judgement to be favourable so we don’t want to lie and deceive.
In order to be happy Smith says that we should be healthy, with no debt and have a clear conscience. Material goods are not according to Roberts what Smith thinks will make us happy. To be lovely we are meant to be appropriate and work hard. To be good we must balance priorities and be prudent. Smith also though we had to be humble.
In the book Roberts has many anecdotes and uses these to reflect on what Smith means. Einstein, Keynes, Hayek and many others ideas appear. Smith summarizes the philosophy of the founder of economics not as a Ayn Rand like self-interest driven philosophy but rather as wise and skeptical.
It’s definitely worth reading for anyone who is interested in Adam Smith or who enjoys listening to Econtalk.