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May 7, 2007 | by  | in Books |
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On the Wealth of Nations

Once hailed as the funniest writer in America, P.J. O’Rourke has spent a drink-fuelled literary career lampooning deserving dictators, fashionable protestors and big-government fanatics around the world. With a glint in his eye and a martini in his hand, he produced a series of hard-hitting yet hilarious books before the unthinkable happened. P.J. settled down and had children. Sadly, the infallibly cute actions of your own children are rarely the cutting edge of political satire.

As a result, some of his recent works – while still good – lacked the punch of his wilder days. It’s ‘The Dave Barry Effect’.

In this book, P.J. examines Adam Smith’s epochal Wealth of Nations as part of the Books that Shook the World series.

The result is not his funniest work but it is certainly his cleverest.

Through the judicious use of quotations, P.J. demonstrates that Smith predicted over two hundred years of economic and political development to a higher degree of accuracy than most of the so-called experts on next week’s Super 14.

This is quite a feat given P.J.’s theory that “the complexity of economics can be calculated mathematically. Write out the algebraic equation that is the human heart and multiply each unknown by the population of the world”.

Smith is particularly cutting (and prescient) on the nature of tax, arguing “there is no art which one government sooner learns of another than that of draining money from the pockets of the people.”

He also has the impact of Government intervention covered, observing that “though the profusion of Government must, undoubtedly, have retarded the natural progress of England towards wealth and improvement, it has not been able to stop it.”

It says something about the change in P.J.’s style that the man who once penned a chapter called ‘How to drive fast on drugs while getting your wing-wang squeezed and not spill your drink’ has produced a considered, dare I say scholarly, text on the works of Adam Smith.

If you read only one economics book this year, this should be it.


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