Continuing Education... Vernon Smith and James Otteson on Adam Smith
By Amy Willis
This week’s episode was recorded and filmed last month before a large crowd at Ball State University. EconTalk host Russ Roberts welcomed philosopher James Otteson and Nobel Laureate Vernon Smith to talk about another famous Smith…
For this special episode, we’d like to suggest some prompts for further thought and discussion:
1. Roberts asks each guest to characterize Smith’s view of human nature. How do their answers differ? Which seems to you to be a more accurate characterization, and why? What evidence can you find from (Adam) Smith to support the answer of either Otteson or (Vernon) Smith? (Remember, you can access Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments [and more] online at Econlib…)
2. How do (Vernon) Smith and Otteson describe (Adam) Smith’s impartial spectator? Roberts argues that the impartial spectator is “what allows us to create civilization.” What does he mean by this, and to what extent do you find his argument persuasive? Explain.
3. How can we reconcile Adam Smith’s apparent disdain for wealth in The Theory of Moral Sentiments with the positive description of wealth creation in The Wealth of Nations? How would Smith regard the level of wealth we enjoy today? Explain.
4. One of the larger purposes of this particular conversation was to explore the relevance of Adam Smith for the 21st century. So, after listening to the conversation, how would you answer that question? What is the biggest lesson (or lessons) you think Smith has for people today? (You may also wish to go back to Otteson’s latest EconTalk interview on Smith, as well as (Vernon) Smith’s latest on Theory of Moral Sentiments.)