There’s a new sheriff in town! This week, there was a new sheriff in town! Russ Roberts was the guest in this episode, while EconTalk fave Mike Munger stood in as interviewer. The subject was Roberts’s new book, How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life.

Use the prompts below as a classroom assignment, or use them to spark conversation at a cocktail party.


Check Your Knowledge:

1. How does Roberts distinguish between selfishness and self-interest, and what role do these concepts play in utility theory?

2. What is the “real punchline” to Adam Smith’s story about the Chinese earthquake, according to Roberts? To what extent do you agree with his interpretation?

Going Deeper:

3. Munger makes the bold assertion that “homo econonomicus” is a sociopath, What does he mean by this, and to what extent does Roberts agree? What does Roberts regard as Smith’s main contribution regarding the individual’s conscience?

4. Would you confront a stranger “behaving badly” in the street? (Both Roberts and Munger share their own personal experiences.) If so, on what basis do you determine the level of action that warrants doing so? If not, for what reason(s)? Finally, how would Smith explain your actions (in either case)?

Extra Credit:

5. Roberts and Munger point to several examples of behavior the social norms governing which have changed dramatically over time, such as littering, smoking, and corporal punishment. What can The Theory of Moral Sentiments tell us about the evolution of these (or other) modern social norms? Use examples from Smith’s text to support your explanation.

6. Compare and contrast Smith’s impartial spectator with Kant’s categorical imperative.