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On the Wealth of Nations

From the book jacket of On the Wealth of Nations, by P.J. O'Rourke(!) :

P. J. O'Rourke reads Adam Smith's revolutionary The Wealth of Nations so you don't have to. Recognized almost instantly on its publication in 1776 as the fundamental work of economics, The Wealth of Nations was also recognized as really long: the original edition totaled over nine hundred pages in two volumes—including the blockbuster sixty-seven-page "digression concerning the variations in the value of silver during the course of the last four centuries," which, "to those uninterested in the historiography of currency supply, is like reading Modern Maturity in Urdu." Although daunting, Smith's tome is still essential to understanding such current hot-topics as outsourcing, trade imbalances, and Angelina Jolie. In this hilarious, approachable, and insightful examination of Smith and his groundbreaking work, 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.

Or buy the real thing–lovely pink and green pastel editions of Adam Smith's actual words from Liberty Fund (full disclosure of sincere but shameless plug: I'm sitting in a hotel room at a conference paid for by Liberty Fund right now, but they really are nice books).

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  1. Five bucks says somebody goes with a hotel room paid for by Liberty fund gag before this thread is done.

  2. Re the blockbuster sixty-seven-page “digression concerning the variations in the value of silver during the course of the last four centuries,” which, “to those uninterested in the historiography of currency supply, is like reading Modern Maturity in Urdu.”

    If you’re actually interested in learning something, you might read Adam Smith, his own self, including that wacky, wacky 67-page digression. (67 pages! Imagine reading 67 pages of anything!) Actually, I’d much rather re-read that 67-page digression than struggle through half a dozen pages of P.J.’s labored wit.

  3. Oh and thanks, I’m putting PJ’s book on my Christmas list. First I’d heard about it.

  4. sixty-seven-page “digression concerning the variations in the value of silver during the course of the last four centuries”

    But is it more tedious than Galt’s Speech?
    That’s the benchmark.

  5. Christ, has anything ever been written that was more tedious than Galt’s speech?

  6. Yeah, Moby Dick.

  7. But that’s a whole novel so it doesn’t count.

  8. Actually, I’d much rather re-read that 67-page digression than struggle through half a dozen pages of P.J.’s labored wit.

    Jesus, Alan, V., you’re on a roll. As it’s coming to pass, this is how I’m beginning to characterise your posts.

  9. Judging from Alan Vannerman’s post, Robin Williams’ line from Good Morning, Vietnam applies:
    “That man is in more dire need of a blow job than any white man in history.”

  10. Alan, you could not be more correct. Most of P.J.’s books are hate trying to masquerade as wit.

  11. Aren’t the Liberty Fund’ers all Straussians?

    O’Rourke stopped being funny after he was hired to be the palace comedian at Cato.

  12. A 67 page digression about silver sounds more interesting than a 15 page digression about a bowl of Captain Crunch.

  13. This is going on my Amazon wish list.

  14. P.J. O’rourke saved me from a life as a liberal. I owe him him more than I can ever repay.

  15. I have a suspicion that some people’s disdain for P.J. O’Rourke comes from reading Rolling Stone in the 80’s and not really getting what he was saying. I received some Border’s Gift Cards for my birthday recently, and this book is going to be numero uno on my buy list.

  16. Eryk,

    Reading Parliament of Whores back in college seriously reduced my liberal tendencies.

  17. No one who’s ever read “How to Drive Fast on Drugs While Getting Your Wing-wang Squeezed and not Spill Your Drink” could honestly say that P.J. O’Rourke isn’t funny.

    No one fun, that is.

  18. I’m fun, jkp. I am.

  19. Hey, the “historiography of currency supply” is interesting stuff – you can’t study power politics without an understanding of contemporary finance, and bullion prices are important in pretty much every period until the big economic powers went off the metallic standards not so very long ago. (And even now plenty of countries have substantial gold reserves.)

  20. “I’m fun, jkp. I am.”

    Dan might be a lot of things, but he was never fun. He did however courageously call the cops on the other kids trying to sell lemonade on the street corner without a permit. And he managed to get trick or treating banned in our neighborhood as well for similar licensing and health reasons. Fun? No, but the kids on our block all turned out to be great, loyal and obedient civil servants.

  21. Cool, I getting the book.
    I just read “give war a chance” it was very entertaining and educational.

    I hope this one offers much of the same.

  22. Since Smith’s assumptions don’t hold, his work is next to useless as far as the contemporary world goes. Hopefully we can get back to something resembling Smith’s world from an economics perspective. Uncle Miltie sold him down the river imo.

  23. Right you are jkp. “Republican Party Reptile” is the absolute greatest PJ book ever.

    Saved me from a life of being in the Libertarian Party. I was a Libertarian petititioner collecting signatures in God awful Western Nebraska in 1987 when the book came out. I was staying in a ratty hotel, underpaid, with a b&w TV. For days I read RPR over and over again.

    I started asking myself, what the hell am I doing here? I concluded, that if someone this cool could be a Republican, I was going to join the GOP. I went off and started the Republican Liberty Caucus, largely in his honor. The rest is history.

    Thank you PJ. You are THEE Godfather of the modern libertarian Republican movement, and whether you know it or not, you provided the inspiration for the most successful libertarian political group in the Nation; The Republican Liberty Caucus.

  24. Have we met, Eric? Do you have an agenda here?

  25. Libertarians understand comedy like George Bush understands the Middle East.

  26. Hey Jose, that’s not funny.

  27. P.J. O’Rourke: enabling would-be pundits the world over to think they’re “intellectual”

    Sheesh, if you can’t take the time to read the original document….

    Hello, the concept of Primary Resources? And why actual understanding of What Got Said means you have to go back to them? Actual learning, as opposed to pre-digested chunks?

    No wonder the US is going down the tubes.

  28. A 67 page digression about silver sounds more interesting than a 15 page digression about a bowl of Captain Crunch.

    And you would be so wrong.

    I might read O’Rourke’s book as a gateway to reading the original someday.

    O’Rourke, usually, rocks. PBTBTBTBTBTBTBT!

  29. Response to Sammy:

    Not sure what you’re asking me here? No, your name does not sound familiar. And a political agenda? Of course, I have one. It’s called mainstreaming the libertarian movement and electing libertarians to public office at all levels.

    My agenda is at http://www.mainstreamlibertarian.com

  30. I’m no slavish fan, but I’ve enjoyed quite a number of P.J. O’Rourke’s essays, including that review Inquiry ran of P.J. on Josephus. That was a great work of black comedy. Not Pirandello, but still, funny as well as being wise.

    I’m a bit disappointed, though. I’d wanted an O’Rourke treatise on the marginalist revolutionaries: Gossen, Jevons, Menger, and Walras, perhaps with a guide to Boehm-Bawerk, Wieser, Edgeworth, Marshall, Clark and others thrown in for good measure.

    Not only are those economists still relevant, I’m sure P.J. could have squeezed some humor out of them. After all, he did it with Josephus. Can you get much mileage from the pun on Edgeworth’s last name, that is, to marginal utility?

    Well, maybe P.J. has fun with all of Smith’s confusions — you know, the diamond-water paradox, the labor theory of value, blah, blah, and blah.

  31. Not sure what you’re asking me here? No, your name does not sound familiar.

    Very good. I thought you were someone else. hard to tell on the Internet sometimes. I like your agenda.

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