Dear Adam Smith: What About a Beer?

friendship dear adam smith taxation beer spirits

Should "Looking for Simple Pleasures" stop by the pub or keep walking? Adam Smith talks about the heart, the pocket book, and government budgets in his response. 
Dear Adam Smith, 

After a hard day’s work, I like to stop at the pub and have a drink and a chat with my mates before heading home. Some people think this is a vice and I should stop. Some people don’t think there should be a pub in our town at all! I know you’ve thought a lot about trade and wealth and morality and justice…but what do you think about having a beer? 

Looking for Simple Pleasures

Dear Looking, 
Man is an anxious animal. To occasionally sweep off your cares with the help of a spirit and a friend is a good thing. Society and conversation are the most powerful remedies for restoring tranquility to the mind. A good life requires much more than overcoming anxious moments, but finding and preserving tranquility are an important part of a good life. 

Of course, you should sweep off your cares with moderation and self-command. Pleasures of the body often mislead us into weaknesses which we afterward have much reason to be ashamed of. The appetites (and thirsts) of our body should be confined within those limits which grace, which propriety, which delicacy, and modesty, require. Some will condemn the consumption of ale for anyone based on the excesses of a few, which stand out in their mind. This is a mistake. Though in every country there are many people who spend upon such liquors more than they can afford, there are always many more who spend less.

You should also be careful in your choosing of companions. Friendships based on the mutual love of virtue are the most happy and permanent. 

I’m also sad to hear that there are those in your community agitating against the presence at all of an establishment that serves alcohol. Prohibitions like this and similar ones like high taxes fall disproportionately on the poor. The rich can always find ways around them—I have known many an estate that brews its own beer, but looks down upon the purchasing of ale by those who cannot afford to brew it themselves. Taxes often raise the prices of alcohol above what ordinary people can afford with the result that fewer can possess them and the society is less happy than it could be. These restrictions do not accomplish their purported goals. They do violence to our nature as human beings who seek tranquility. They also keep a good above its natural market price and diminish a nation’s opulence. 

Excuse me. I’m a bit agitated now but luckily my friend David Hume has recently arrived and has offered to teach me to play badminton this afternoon. 

I wish you these and other simple pleasures. 

Yours in fellow-feeling,
Adam Smith 

P.S. A good friend of mine has a delightful recipe for an old-fashioned fruited brandy

Editor's Note: Letters to the "Dear Adam Smith" column are not, of course, answered by Adam Smith. He died in 1790. Letters are answered by Janet Bufton, Christy Lynn, Sarah Skwire, Caroline Breashears, and Renee Wilmeth. Advice is for the purposes of amusement and education about Smith's thought. We do our best, but caveat emptor and follow our advice at your own risk.