P.J. O'Rourke Updates Adam Smith


Columnist Ron Hart gives two thumbs up to P.J. O'Rourke's recent On the Wealth of Nations, an updating of Adam Smith's classic. From Hart's column:

It is not the USDA that keeps your local supermarket from trying to make a little more money by selling tainted meat. It is their knowledge that their reputation in the society and their future profits will be adversely affected by such. I tell the people who work for me "to be long-term greedy." Think of your reputation as your stock and trade, and do nothing to clients that is not in their best interest—and therefore, ultimately, your own. The old saying that you can shear a sheep every month but you can only slaughter it once applies here. Businesses that do not do that, in a world with a vigilant free press, will not survive. 

The framers of our Constitution were clearly for less government. The modern politicians on both sides have forgotten that. As O'Rourke said, "The U.S. Constitution is less than a quarter the length of a Toyota Camry owner's manual, and it has managed to keep 300 million of the world's most unruly, passionate and energetic people safe, prosperous and free." 

In the world we have today, where the Right wants to tell you what you can do in the bedroom and the Left wants to tell you what car you can drive and how to spend your money, it is important that the words of Adam Smith are heard again.

Whole Hart col here.

Some of his comments remind me of an essay about P.T. Barnum that Reason ran a few years back. In that piece, political scientist John Mueller, now best known as a critic of overhyped fears of terrorism, wrote that the famous showman helped create the concept of business ethics. Why? Because Barnum learned he could either rip people off via sketchy ruses or be on the up-and-up and keep them as longtime customers. Read about "St. Phineas" here.