Would Adam Smith Tell Taylor Swift to Attend the Super Bowl?

sympathy self-interest relationships

February 5, 2024

Would Adam Smith advise Taylor Swift to rush back to America after an exhausting concert just to cheer on a man in a football game? Joy Buchanan cheers for Smithian sentiments. 
Have you been told that economists only care about money? If anyone would tell Taylor Swift to focus on her own career, you might think it would be the most famous economist of all, Adam Smith. But AdamSmithWorks fans already know that Adam Smith was concerned with the whole person. So, would Adam Smith advise Taylor Swift to rush back to America after an exhausting concert just to cheer on a man in a football game? 

On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Colbert called Taylor Swift “the biggest star in the NFL.” Since her blockbuster summer concert tour, The Eras Tour, Swift has recently been even more famous for drawing attention to herself and her boyfriend Travis Kelce, a Tight End for the Kansas City Chiefs, at his NFL football games.

A widely debated question today is whether Swift, now a famously loyal fan of Kelce’s team, will be there to cheer in-person at the Super Bowl game. Swift will have just finished performing at her own packed stadium in Tokyo, Japan the night before! NPR reports that it is at least theoretically possible for a private jet to get her there on time

The Nays

In An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith champions the benefits of specialization and trade between nations. Cultural exchanges like Taylor Swift’s performance in Japan align perfectly with Smith's vision of a world interconnected by mutual interests and enjoyment.

Adam Smith was in favor of expanding the boundaries of trade. So, he would be pleased that an American artist would be performing in Japan and would want her to do her very best. Attending the Super Bowl during an international tour might be exhausting and distracting. 

Is it ok if she decides to focus on herself and her own career? On one hand, Adam Smith would say yes. In  Wealth of Nations, Smith argued that individuals and nations benefit from focusing on their comparative advantages and engaging in trade to obtain goods and services more efficiently. In Book I, Chapter II, Smith discusses the role of self-interest and the invisible hand in promoting economic prosperity:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.
This quote emphasizes the idea that individuals pursuing their self-interest can contribute to the overall well-being of society through the market mechanism. In the context of Taylor Swift, one might argue that prioritizing her career and professional commitments aligns with the broader economic principle of individuals pursuing their self-interest for the greater good. If she wanted to focus on making the best music and fitting in dates when she is less busy with work, Adam Smith would not judge. 

The Ayes

Adam Smith is most famous for his Wealth of Nations but he also wrote another ambitious book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments. In this book, Smith discusses the importance of social bonds, compassion, and the pursuit of happiness. He acknowledges that individuals are not solely driven by self-interest; they desire and seek the approval and sympathy of others. Relationships, according to Smith, play a crucial role in human happiness.

If we were to draw insights from The Theory of Moral Sentiments, one could argue that Taylor Swift might find fulfillment and happiness by supporting her boyfriend, his family, and his teammates in a significant event like the Super Bowl. Smith's emphasis on the social aspect of human nature suggests that personal relationships and emotional connections are essential components of a satisfying and meaningful life.

How selfish soever man may be supposed, there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him, though he derives nothing from it except the pleasure of seeing it.
Humans have a natural inclination to be interested in the well-being and happiness of others, emphasizing the importance of mutual regard.

If Taylor Swift wants not just to be loved but to be lovely, then maybe making it to her boyfriend’s game, especially since it will be hard (certainly harder than making cinnamon buns!), is what will make her happiest. Because then she will be and have been seen as a generous and supportive person. 

The Haters 

What about the hate, from detractors and grumblers, being directed toward Taylor Swift and her boyfriend Travis Kelce? Smith wouldn’t be surprised that some people feel resentment when they see two happy people living their best lives. 

The haters should reflect on this passage: 
The agreeable passions of love and joy can satisfy and support the heart without any auxiliary pleasure. The bitter and painful emotions of grief and resentment more strongly require the healing consolation of sympathy.
In this passage, Smith emphasizes the role of sympathy in mitigating the painful emotions associated with resentment. Envy is subtly touched upon as an emotion that requires the healing consolation of sympathy. Smith suggests that those who experience envy may find relief through sympathetic understanding. The people who find themselves unable to enjoy this event in American history could probably seek out some love and sympathy.