O'Rourke on Smith

by Don Boudreaux on January 28, 2008

in Entertainment

P.J. O’Rourke appeared recently on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show.  (The occasion is the release of the paperback version of O’Rourke’s book on Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations.)  Here’s the Daily Show clip.

In this clip O’Rourke isn’t perfect on Smith — O’Rourke’s chief goal in this clip is to be funny, rather than scholarly.  But he’s got a few good lines.  I like especially the one about Smith wanting to "decentralize our badness."

HT Justin Cox

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{ 12 comments }

FreedomLover January 28, 2008 at 5:54 pm

I don't care for O'Rourke's snarkiness in general. OH and he had to put in his anti-Iraq war dig, as though that's the first and last word on the issue. No wonder people are tuning out these idiotic shows and logging into Cafe Hayek.

FreedomLover January 28, 2008 at 5:55 pm

Another thing, I haven't read "Wealth of Nations" yet, but as a matter of principle, it's good to decentralize power as much as possible, since we know centralization of power breeds absolute corruption and evil. But for O'Rourke to imply that all businessmen are seeking to cheat their customers is offensive and degrading. He just insulted millions of honest businessmen.

Josh January 28, 2008 at 7:37 pm

His goal was to be funny, and it is important to remember that we don't reach all of our goals all of the time. I didn't like his demeanor, but I did think the war dig was funny.

About Businessmen: while I have only read some of The Wealth of Nations, I know that Thomas Sowell used to offer an A to any of his students who could find a favorable reference to businessmen in The Wealth of Nations — none ever did (Basic Economics 382). You might not agree with O'Rourke's comments, but Adam Smith probably would have.

FreedomLover January 28, 2008 at 8:34 pm

What would Adam Smith agree with this pissant named "PJ"? What is that for anyways? Peanut butter and Jelly?

andrew January 28, 2008 at 9:25 pm

Very interesting interview. In the future, I would like to see The Daily Show interview more economists. It's a very popular venue for younger viewers.

shawn January 29, 2008 at 8:20 am

…picking on a person's name: immediate loss of any credibility gained to this point.

FreedomLover January 29, 2008 at 11:49 am

Shawn:

PJ doesn't deserve any respect. I'd call him childhood playground names all day long – that's all he deserves.

DJB January 29, 2008 at 1:52 pm

I enjoy reading him more than listening to him. A bit too much pandering to the crowd. He tried too hard to be funny and only scored once by my count (war joke). He would have been better off spending the short time he had trying to deliver the message and philosophy of TWON and TTOMS. Actually considering the audience, a little focus on Moral Sentiments may have gone a long way in credentialing Adam Smiths views to the Left. Although he may have accomplished that with his comments on businessmen.

vidyohs January 29, 2008 at 6:00 pm

I'll be upfront, I haven't read Wealth of Nations. I only know it second hand from those who have read it, such as my brother, and of course from various and sundry writing quoting it. Which of course certainly doesn't qualify me as even conversant with it much less able to refute it.

That being said, just on the street level reaction to O'Rourke's (a man whose wit at times approaches that of Mencken IMHO) TV appearance and to the comments above, I have my misgivings about Adam Smith saying that "businessmen were all bad". Perhaps he did, but perhaps he meant something other than the way it seems to be taken here. Or, someone correct me here, perhaps that is what is being inferred not what was directly written.

I don't see how a man reknowned for his wisdom about markets could put down businessmen with such a broad swipe of the pen.

I view doctors as businessmen and perhaps I have been lucky but with only one or two rare exceptions since personal awareness have I been dissatisfied with a doctor's performance in my treatment or in his approach to my care.

I have 66 Years of accumulated experience with businessmen and in my own opinion, again with extremely rare exception, have I ever felt mistreated or badly served.

And, I'll tell you another thing, generally when I feel mistreated I force myself to stop and rethink the entire transaction in an objective manner; and, when I do that I realize that on that level I have to share equal blame because I didn't ask the right questions and do my due dilligence on the service providers I was working with.

I may be a lucky guy, but across the board the businessmen I have dealt with have not been "bad" guys at all. Some could use a lot more training in the concept of customer service, maybe be more knowledgeable of their products/services(especially retail outlets) but for me to accept that businessmen in general are not interested in serving you and I in the best way they can. No, I can't get on that train.

Some ideas on that theme. I know that the smaller the target customer base the more attention one had better be paying to customer service and quality.

For instance, a flooring company in a huge metro area like Houston could get away with inflated quality in its product and mediocre installation for a long time by simply advertising regularly. The size of the market ensures that the poor quality repuation can be avoided to some degree simply because the businessman doesn't have to depend upon repeat business or word of mouth advertising.

I'll be honest, there are some like that out there, but it is also my observation that their lifespan is relatively short in the business world, and I consider a business that doesn't get at least 15 to 20 years longevity hasn't really proven itself. In other words if it folds in less than 15 years it was short term IMHO.

As an indiviudal, just think of the businessmen you come into contact every single day and reflect on them. Have they treated you honorably, given you what you paid for, been courteous, insured satisfaction, and given you reason to return?

My problem may be that the word businessman means more to me than it does to most people. I have advanced my thinking to the point where I no longer see people as having jobs. I realized about three years ago that no has a job, we are all businessmen and we are all owners of our own business.

Mary Sue's business may be "Receptionist" and she may be servicing one exclusive client, A.J.'s Law firm, but mark my words she isn't working for A.J., she is working for herself in the advancement of her own business. If she treats it that way, she won't be in the receptionist business long, she will change careers and start a new business as Administrative Assistant. I guarantdamntee you that Mary Sue is not getting out of bed each day, getting dressed, and going to work for A,J's Law firm, she is doing it for herself.

So what is Smith talking about when he says businessman? What is O'Rourke talking about?

vidyohs January 29, 2008 at 6:23 pm

Well sheesh,

I realized about three years ago that no (one) has a job, we are all businessmen and we are all owners of our own business.

FreedomLover January 29, 2008 at 7:28 pm

Honestly I have no clue what Peanut&Jelly Man was talking about, except that it was all coming out of his posterior.

vidyohs January 29, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Consider this, PJ was kissing butt in repayment for the free advertisement of his new book. TV has a format that requires strict obedience. One must show joyuous appreciation for everything even your hated oppenents fall on his fall must have you clapping hands and smiling.

PJ's book will bring him joy and riches, his TV appearance will be forgotten tomorrow.

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