07/31/2012 10:48 pm ET | Updated Sep 30, 2012

My Lunch with Adam Smith

So guess who I ran into in Hot Doug's, as I'm schlepping my tray full of foie-gras-and-duck dog back to the table? (You couldn't get the duck fat tries that day -- that's a weekend-only thing -- but that's okay; I love the idea, but they're really not all that much better than regular fries, because regular fries are pretty close to the perfect food.) Yeah, Adam Smith. Right, that one, the 18th century philosopher. Now, don't get me wrong, I don't hate Adam, but it's always "Oh! I've got an invisible hand this!" And, "Oh! I've got an invisible hand that!" And, "Hey, did you know I have an invisible hand?" No, dude, because you don't freakin' mention it like eleventy times a minute. And plus there was that incident the last time I ate lunch with him, three, four years ago; just let me tell you, neither cute girls nor their gangbanger boyfriends like having someone's invisible hand on their ass. Nor do they believe you when you tell them your luncheon companion has an invisible hand. Thanks to Adam Smith, I still get a twinge in my hip when the weather's changing. I mean, I don't mind getting my ass kicked for feeling up some gangbanger's girlfriend--well, yeah, yeah, actually, I kind of do--but to get my ass kicked for someone else's frottage? That's just every kind of wrong with the possible exception of "Dude, can I date your dog?" So, yeah, I might have sighed a little before I sat down with Adam Smith.

He was having the Chicago Dog... with none of the toppings. You can't see me, but I am totally rolling my eyes. Why go to Hot Doug's and get a freakin' plain hot dog? Adam's like that, though, not the least bit adventurous, kinda bourgie, to be perfectly honest. And then there's the way he acts, all hoity-toity. Oooo, I'm a philosopher! Oooo, I invented capitalism!, Oooo, I wear a big powdered girly wig! Plus he's very old fashioned, because of how he's like 300 years old.

So the minute I sit down, he starts in with reminiscing about how he was the Smiths' frontman. You can scream, "Dude, you are totally not Morrissey!" until you're blue (which, admittedly, if you're like a Scotsman or have some kind of pulmonary deficiency, that might not take that long), and he just shrugs and says, "Then why was the band called 'The Smiths?'" and starts humming, "Frankly, Mr. Shankly." Freakin' Adam Smith. If there weren't a large tube of encased foie gras and sauterne duck on my tray (not to mention the fries), I would have totally booked.

Adam Smith


"So, Adam Smith," I say, hoping to get him off the Smiths, "How's that capitalism thing working out for you?" I knew the minute I said it that I'd made a mistake, and that any minute now I was going to be yearning for an in-depth discussion of the deeper meaning of "Girlfriend In a Coma." Because Adam Smith gets this, like, look in his eye, and I know we're going at it. I looked at my mostly unconsumed foie-gras-and-duck dog and possibly whimpered just a little. I took a big bite, but I knew what was coming, and I could hardly taste the luscious fatty goodness. (But what I could taste? Tasted like Joss Whedon had blessed it with his very own god-hand.) (He got the ability to bless food after the second season of Buffy. Well-deserved, too.)

"The market," Adam Smith announced in that ponce-y way of his, "Without interference, orders men's affairs to arrive at the very best possible outcome. Each transaction, made out of self-interest, is guided by an invisible hand -- I have one, you know -- to achieve the greatest happiness of all." I closed my eyes. Yeah, okay. Here we go. All I want's a sausage from Hot Doug's, and instead, my luck, I meet up with the father of capitalism. I should have just left it alone. But have you met me? Because I might be a bit of a dick sometimes.

"Oh, yeah, Adam Smith. That makes total sense. Cheer up, homeless guy! There's an invisible hand! Turn that frown upside-down, dude who just lost his house: invisible hand! Aw, little kid who just died in the emergency room of pulmonary distress: what can we do? Invisible hand! Seems to me that the market just makes a bunch of rich guys happy and the rest of us stressed, sick, or dead."

Adam Smith shrugged. "There is inequality. That is inevitable, given the differences in the ability of men. But the market, guided by the invisible hand, leads to the greatest happiness for all."

"That's just quasi-mystical religious bullshit!" I shouted, pounding on the table and making the salt and pepper shakers jump. "You can't prove that! How do you know that if you have a hundred people and three are very happy and 20 are starving or sick or dead and the rest of us just pretty stressed out and miserable a lot the time that it's better than all hundred of us being moderately miserable?"

Adam Smith leaned forward. "Yes, they believe that in Sweden, too. Socialists. They kill themselves. A lot."

"Just once per Swede at most, Adam Smith. And even if that proved that socialism makes you less happy than capitalism or that socialism makes you kill yourself -- which, huh? -- it's bullshit. The Swedish suicide rate is 20 per 100,000 people and the U.S. suicide rate is 19.3 -- Russia's is like 72." (Yeah, I just happened to have all these figures in my head. As one does.) "Oh, and Alaska's is 24.5. Which means, what? Living somewhere that Sarah Palin was governor of makes you want to die? Yeah, I get that." I looked longingly at my duck dog. Go away, Adam Smith. Grow up and stop arguing with Adam Smith, Floyd. Oh, right, like either of those was going to happen.

Adam Smith said, "We should ask our innkeep how much he might fancy the idea of the state interfering with his business." And as if by magic -- the magic of words -- right then Hot Doug came by to ask how we were doing, and I told him my foie-gras-and-duck-dog was awesome (what I'd had of it), and as he was about to turn away, I said, "Hey, Hot Doug!" He turned back and smiled. "It's just Doug. The place is Hot Doug's."

I waved my quite-visible hand. "Oh, I know that, Hot Doug." He did something with his face. I think he really didn't like Adam Smith. Who could blame him? Freakin' Adam Smith. "Could you do business if there were no cops?" He shrugged. "Probably not. It'd be too dangerous." I looked at Adam Smith. "Government intervention in the markets. If there were no cops, Hot Doug--"

"Just Doug."

"Whatever, Hot Doug -- Hot Doug couldn't do business. If there were no regulation, everyone who traded in a stock market or futures market would get stripped to the bone, like a cow in a piranha-infested river. It's the government that keeps Hot Doug in business, and that keeps the traders in business. No regulation, no markets."

Adam Smith nodded. "I am fond of traders. Last week several of them introduced me to the pleasures of doing lines of cocaine off a hooker's ass. We had nothing to equal the experience in the 18th century." Hot Doug rolled his eyes and went back to the counter. I couldn't blame him. Adam Smith was totally getting on my nerves too.

"And what about the airlines, Adam Smith?"

Adam Smith shrugged. "Heavier than air flight is not possible." Well, he had me there. As both Adam Smith and I knew, the airlines drug and hypnotize their customers, then stick them into pneumatic tubes to get them to their destination.

"But if it were, Adam Smith, the airlines would have a great incentive to skip maintenance and safety checks on their fleet, wouldn't they? Oh, sure, they'd be betting their business, because no one's going to fly -- or get shipped by pneumatic tube -- with them if their planes start falling out of the sky like gnats when you blow pot smoke at them [try it; it's fun for the whole family], but they're also betting your life, without you even knowing about it. They lose, they go out of business, but you die."

"I died in 1790," said Adam Smith.

"Yes, you did, " I replied, annoyed with Adam Smith again. Why must he continually bring up these irrelevant details? "So, Adam Smith, you know what keeps the airlines from making that bet?"

"Socialism?" he asked, his eyebrows arched disdainfully. You shouldn't really do that when you're wearing a girly wig.

"Regulation! The FAA keeps all your trader pals from dying when they head out to Vegas to do lines of coke off a hooker's heinie. Speaking for the FAA, you're welcome."

Adam Smith -- who had finished his own boring-ass hot dog, incidentally -- said, "Well, regardless, there can be no doubt that private industry is more efficient than bureaucrats and time-servers."

"Oh, really, Adam Smith?" I said, but it came out "Ogrry, Ahmith?" because of the large amount of foie-gras dog in my mouth. It was a little cold, but still delicious. Also, I might have spit a little bit of foie-gras, or perhaps sauternes duck, into Adam Smith's wig. "What about parking in Chicago? The city sold off the parking meters, and now parking costs twice as much and the city's getting a fourth of the revenue they would have gotten. How is that more efficient? How is that the best solution for everyone? It's good for Chicago Parking Meters, LLC, and Morgan Stanley, who owns Chicago Parking Meters, LLC and paid for the meters with TARP money, but for the rest of us? Two words, dude: Puh. Leeze. Plus, you have to pay at one of those one of those f'ed-up kiosks that make me just want to start wailing on it with a hammer."

"Have I ever told you how I came to write 'Baby Britain?'" Adam Smith asked me. I blinked. "That's Elliot Smith, Adam Smith. Jeez." Adam Smith having settled into a ruminative silence, I addressed my now-completely-cold-but-still-delicious sausage, and, finishing, nodded to Adam Smith, who had started droning on about doing heroin for three weeks straight and writing most of "X/O" in his own blood. As I was turning into the little hallway that led outside, I heard a woman shriek and I looked back inside; a biker woman, with matching biker, was standing and glaring at Adam Smith, who was gesturing at me. The biker shouted, "That guy wasn't even anywhere around!" "Ah," said Adam Smith, "But he has an invisible hand." As I passed by the window on my way to the car, I couldn't see Adam Smith, but clouds of wig powder puffed into the air and floated around inside Hot Doug's.

When I got to the car, I saw a tidy red envelope on my windshield: a ticket. I checked: I still had half an hour on the parking time I'd bought. Freakin' Adam Smith.