Ten days ago or so I was talking reading with a colleague and he said he was reading Arthur Herman’s How the Scots Invented the Modern World.I was reminded how much I enjoyed this book when I read it. It gives a lovely history of Scotland and how the basic ingenuity of the Scots led to the development of inventions and ideas that have totally shaped modern western culture. Adam Smith, whose Wealth of Nations is a foundational book for modern economics, was born near Edinburgh (Kirkaldy) in 1723. I think this passage about him is a useful one – and maybe too true – as we think through how we do business and live with each other in this interesting times. Adam Smith [learned from his merchant father] how human ingenuity will find a way to defy government rules and regulations, suchs as customs tariffs, when they fly in the face of self-interest. Here is how Smith would put it in his Wealth of Nations almost fifty years later: “The natural effort of every individual to better his [or her] own condition … is so powerful a principle, that it is alone, and without any assistance, not only capable of carrying on the society to wealth and prosperity, but of surmounting a hundred impertinent obstructions with which the follow of human laws too often incumbers its operations.” I think I am going to have to learn a lot more about economics in this time, and I hope it will be helpful in sorting things during what may be a time of pretty serious change. This is a good read, and a fairly breezy one for all its history.
And here is another really good read from last week in the New York Times. President Obama talks about the power reading. It’s great. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/16/books/transcript-president-obama-on-what-books-mean-to-him.html