Thursday, November 09, 2006

P. J. O'Rourke Does Adam Smith

New Book on Adam Smith by the inimitable P. J. O’Rourke is announced by Atlantic Monthly Press at only $13.57. It’s bound to be a smash hit!

It's called: On The Wealth of Nations: Books That Changed the World'

Publisher’s description: "America’s most provocative satirist reads Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations so you don’t have to. Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations was first published in 1776 and almost instantly it was recognized as the fundamental work of economics, as important to the development of this field as Darwin’s The Origin of Species would be for natural history eighty yearslater.

The Wealth of Nations was also recognized as being really long; the original edition totaled over nine hundred pages in two volumes. And as P. J. O’Rourke points out, to understand The Wealth of Nations, you also need to read Smith’s first doorstopper, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. But now you don’t have to read either. That’s because P.J. has waded through all of Smith’s dense work, including Wealth’s sixty-seven-page “digression concerning the variations in the value of silver during the course of the four last centuries,” which, says O’Rourke, “to those uninterested in the historiography of currency supply, is like reading Modern Maturity in Urdu.”

In this hilarious and insightful examination of Smith and his groundbreaking work, which even intellectuals should have no trouble comprehending, P.J. puts his trademark wit to good use, and shows us why Smith is still relevant, why what seems obvious now was once revolutionary, and why the pursuit of self-interest is so important.

P.J. ON OUTSOURCING: “Some jobs require protection, to ensure they are performed locally in their own communities. My job is to make quips, jests, and waggish comments. Somewhere in Mumbai there is a younger, funnier person who is willing to work for less. My job could be outsourced to him. But he could make any joke he wanted. Who would my wife scold? Who would my in-laws be offended by? Who would my friends shun?”

ON THE SERVICE ECONOMY:“Later economists, such as, in the early nineteenth century, J. B. Say, felt that Smith undervalued the economic contributions of services. And he did. The eighteenth century had servants, not a service economy. It was hard for a man of that era to believe that the semi-inebriated footman and the blowzy scullery maid would evolve into, well, the stoned pizza delivery boy and the girl behind the checkout counter with an earring in her tongue.”

ON GRAPHS AND JARGON:“Unfortunately, Adam Smith didn’t have graphs. Hundreds of pages of The Wealth of Nations that readers skim might have been condensed into several pages that readers skip entirely. Another thing Smith didn’t have, besides graphs, was jargon. Economics was too new to have developed its thieves’ cant. When Adam Smith was being incomprehensible he didn’t have the luxury of brief, snappy technical terms as a shorthand for incoherence. He had to go on talking through his hat until the subject was (and the reader would be) exhausted.”

Order from Amazon or from :Publishers Group WestAttn: Order Department, 1700 Fourth Street, Berkeley, CA 94710

Judging by the pithy extracts from the publisher it’s going to be a mixed bag of populism, satire, Chicago nonsense and, er, good fun too.

Academics will probably hate it but privately have a good laugh. If you’re too serious and self-important to laugh at great wit, whatever the content, then I can only feel sorry for you. I’m looking forward to reading it and I will probably comment when I have, with as straight a face as I can.



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