Russ Roberts on Adam Smith's Rules for Living
By David Henderson
The prudent man, claims Roberts, does not smoke, is “physically active and keeps his weight under control,” and “works hard and avoids debt.” On debt, I must part company. It was by taking on what seemed like a massive debt at the time–1986–that my wife and I managed to buy a house in coastal California. I doubt that Roberts would have criticized our decision even prospectively. So I think he must mean something like “avoids too much debt” or “consistently spends beyond his means.” Being just is relatively easy to understand: don’t cheat. It’s important, note both Roberts and Smith, not to cheat in even little ways. If we do, there will be, writes Smith, “no enormity so gross of which we may not be capable.”
Beneficence is harder to define. The rules of beneficence are, according to Smith, “loose, vague, and indeterminate.” Some aspects of beneficence, writes Roberts, are “friendship, humanity, hospitality [and] generosity.” He discusses his challenges in following these rules while raising four children. One beneficent rule he created was always to take his daughter’s or son’s hand when offered. A rule I created for myself before my daughter was a year old was, when she asked me to play with her or do anything with her, to say yes at least 90 percent of the time.
This is from “Adam Smith’s Guide to Living,” my review of Russ Roberts’s latest book, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life.
I mentioned one of the main things I learned from the book–Roberts’s “Iron Law of You”–in an earlier post.