“Cambridge University,” wrote PJ O’Rourke, “separated the study of economics from the study of moral sciences in 1903. A little soon.”
O’Rourke came to this after he’d finished writing his book on Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. I have never read the Adam Smith original – it runs to nearly 1,000 pages and there are other things, pretty much everything, that needs to be done instead.
Also, it was so long that Smith didn’t even pen it himself. It’s believed he dictated it and some other sore-handed lackey had to get it all down on page; many, many, many pages. That’s the division of labour for you.
Besides, Smith doesn’t write/dictate like PJ O’Rourke. And frequently, only the great O’Rourke, who sadly left us two years ago this week, hits the spot. So, as a guide and interpreter he makes all the sense. What we could do now with PJ O’Rourke – and Christopher Hitchens – taking aim at the palisades of bunk and cant that have been built and promoted by the venal or those should just know better in the west.
Smith is obviously the top banana when it comes to free trade and the small government set. The manipulation of his idea that the market will look after itself and that government should be tiny and that is the only way to build nations and boo hoo to you if you don’t get on that bus daddy-o, is one that has dominated in Britain, more or less, since Thatcher, with something of a Blair interruption.
That’s worked out well. So well, that PopCon, the Liz Truss movement that sounds like a diuretic, is giving it another lash. (Small government is all well and good until you need it – Covid furlough payments anyone?) Chances are Truss’s new move won’t land. But that is not the point.