How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life



I take the ideas in Smith's little-known masterpiece, The Theory of Moral Sentiments and apply them to the modern world—lessons for work, family, friendship, and how to live the good life.

“A great book. Makes you feel better about life, humanity, and yourself. Like having a conversation and a scotch with Adam Smith, or even better, Russ Roberts."

—NASSIM TALEB, author of The Black Swan


What economists can learn from The Theory of Moral Sentiments

This is a video of a talk I gave at the World Bank taking the lessons from The Theory of Moral Sentiments and seeing how they might apply to how we teach economics and think about public policy. It’s a topic I hope to continue to think about. And here is Vernon Smith on EconTalk in a similar vein and my follow-up to the conversation.

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  • 11.27.14

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Financial Times Review

The Financial Times has a nice review of my Adam Smith book. Here’s how it opens:

As any Financial Times reader can tell you, Adam Smith was the original Gordon Gekko, insisting greed is good – and championed by UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, a devotee of his Wealth of Nations.

However, it turns out that this view is a misconception – one that Russ Roberts seeks to redress in How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life by showing how the grandfather of the dismal science can make you a better, happier and more fulfilled person.

Roberts, a Stanford economist, does so by whisking the reader through Smith’s “hidden gem”, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. This treatise was the work for which Smith cared most. Beautifully written, it was first published in 1759 but he revised it until just before his death in 1790.

The Theory of Moral Sentiments puts Smith’s invisible candlestick-makers and unbenevolent bakers aside and instead shows him pioneering what is now called behavioural economics – or, more prosaically, the study of what it means to be human. As Roberts skilfully shows through the words of Smith: “economics is about something more important than money”.

  • 11.27.14

Psychology Today Review

William Irwin reviews How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life at Psychology Today. Irwin gets what I’m trying to do and does a nice job explaining what I actually did. One of the more thorough pieces on the book so far:

In How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life Russ Roberts does not focus on The Wealth of Nations, but rather on Smith’s other major book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Smith founded the study of economics, but his training and education were in philosophy, and The Theory of Moral Sentiments is very clearly a work of moral philosophy. Part of Smith’s message in this book is that we should not pursue fame and fortune. Why? Because such pursuits and even accomplishments will not make us happy. Tellingly, the subtitle of Roberts’s book is An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness.

Roberts and Smith deliver on the implicit promise of the title and subtitle. I must confess that I have not read Smith’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Very few people have these days. But having read Roberts’s book, I am now going to read Smith’s neglected classic. In the pages of Roberts’s book, Smith comes across as a brilliant psychologist and theorist of human nature.

  • 11.19.14

Radio Appearance on THINK

Kris Boyd of THINK (out of KERA–public radio in Dallas) interviews me on Adam Smith. Lovely questions and interesting discussion.

  • 11.05.14

Speech at the Royal Society of Arts

I talk at the Royal Society of Arts about Smith’s view of loveliness, what Smith might say about the seeming decline of the US and the UK, and how Adam Smith can, possibly, change your life.

  • 10.31.14

Speech at the London School of Economics

I talk about the real invisible hand at the London School of Ecomomics. I try to give the real story of how Smith thought about emergent order as not just a commercial phenomenon but a social one as well.

  • 10.30.14

Appearance on

“Roberts sat down with Reason’s Nick Gillespie to talk about Adam Smith’s relevance in both economic and moral arenas, the hubris of contemporary economists and the politicians who rely on them, the transformation of work from drudgery to a form of self-actualization, and how Adam Smith—a bachelor who lived much of his adult life with mother—just might help you live a happy life.”


  • 10.08.14

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Piketty Panel Video

Video of my debate on Piketty with Tyler Cowen, Brad Delong and Robert Solow is here.

  • 09.29.14


Welcome to my new website. This is where I keep stuff I’ve written or created. You can find my books, videos I’ve created, speeches I’ve made, podcasts or interviews, and essays of various kinds. There are also resources for teachers and students using material I’ve written. Hope you find something useful or interesting here.

  • 09.16.14

The Disrupters

This article first appeared in the September/October issue of Politico Magazine.

I’m hardly the first person to extol the virtues of the sharing economy—the latest iteration of which comes in the form of smartphone apps like Airbnb or Uber that connect people who want somewhere to stay or a ride with people willing to provide it. Tech that allows me to book an apartment halfway around the world or order a cab on my phone in mere minutes is pretty cool. But what many miss is how crucial an abstract concept—trust—is to making these businesses work. The sharing economy is changing our travel habits, fragmenting taxi and hotel services into hundreds of thousands of independent providers. It could also utterly transform the way our political institutions work. READ ARTICLE »