How Russ Roberts Can Change Your Life

I recently sent off my review of Russ Roberts’ book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life. The publication I sent the review to is a quarterly and so it should run in the Spring. I highly recommend Russ’s book, by the way. (Russ, as most readers of this post probably already know, is the host of Econtalk.)

The book is basically about what Russ learned from a careful reading of Adam Smith’s lesser-known work, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. (It’s zero price on line here, by the way.) He has caused me to put it on my list for summer reading at my cottage in Canada.

I can’t say that Adam Smith’s book will change my life because on page after page of Russ’s book I found myself saying, “Yes, I had already figured that out.” So, for example, I figured out long ago that my goal in life was not to become rich by giving up on relations with family members and my larger community.

But there is one thing that Russ formulated that has already changed my life daily. He calls it “The Iron Law of You.”

What is “The Iron Law of You?” Simply this: “You think more about yourself than you do about me.”

Everyone knows that, right? Well, yes. But we, or at least I, often tend to forget it. In a given week, I wait to hear back from, say, 5 to 10 people. Of those 5 to 10, maybe 1 to 3 don’t get back to me as soon as I like or at all. What did I do in the past? Get angry. Not really angry. But just angry enough that, when I thought about the person through the day, I found myself thinking worse of the person.

But Russ reminds us that “that person” has priorities too–and they are not ours. And there’s nothing wrong with that. He also caused me always to remember, when I start to get angry at not receiving a return phone call or e-mail, that I probably owe others a phone call or e-mail. I forgive myself. Why not forgive them? So, on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is absolute calm and acceptance and 10 is rage, when I remember “The Iron Law of You,” my anger falls from about a 3 to a 1.5. Not bad.