The Dec. 20, 2020 edition of National Review is a 114-page commemorative publication, marking the fortnightly magazine's 65th anniversary. I'm still reading the insightful essays. However, one that begins on Page 107, "Adam Smith's Other Masterwork," by Boston College Professor Ryan P. Hanley is a gem.

For a brief background on what used to be standard reading in many high schools, colleges and universities, Smith is perhaps best known for his 1776 book, "An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations" or "The Wealth of Nations." This is generally considered Smith's most important and lasting work – his magnum opus, if you will.

Professor Hanley's column focuses on Smith's first book, "The Theory of Moral Sentiments." (Admittedly, this old Ridgerunner had not previously heard of "The Theory of Moral Sentiments.")

"Smith focuses on four virtues: prudence, benevolence, justice and self-command," Professor Hanley writes. "As he makes clear, commercial societies need all four. Prudence enables us to steer our self-interest toward long-term incremental gains and away from risky short-term speculation. Benevolence reinforces our natural sympathy, encouraging a love of neighbor even in secular society. Justice leads us to respect others and their rights and to keep up our end of the bargain in our deals. And self-command empowers us to overcome the impulses and desires that beset us, especially in societies in which temptations abound."

The professor writes that "Smith often emphasizes the difference between what the world praises and what is genuinely worthy of praise. To help us develop this judgment, Smith turns to his 'impartial spectator.'”

From more than three decades of writing about local news, sports, human-interest stories, politics, rattlesnakes in a newsroom and other fun stuff, I'd like to consider myself an "impartial spectator." I am not a member of either traditional political party. In fact, I am not a member of any organized political party. In the state of Ohio, county of Adams, I am a registered Libertarian.

Unlike some with political leanings, be they left or right, I strive for objectivity and rational thought over party loyalty. When many politicians and their acolytes (not the religious type!) speak to their respective bases, I'm reminded of the folks who only watch or read certain media. There are those who prefer the myriad of liberal media outlets – and there are those who prefer the other one (yes, singular).

Having two parents with solid backgrounds in mathematics (my dad was a surveyor, and my mother has been an auditor, accountant, financial adviser and business manager for more years than we'll mention), I tend to break serious matters down to numbers. In other words, for businesses and households, there are revenues and expenses. Or, as an old friend used to say, "There is income and outgo. The income must be more than the outgo."

Another friend and business owner recently said to me that until you are obligated to meet a weekly business payroll, you really haven't experienced non-stop daily stress.

This brought to mind a recent proposal by congressional Democrats to increase the U.S. minimum wage to $15 (plus future COLAs – cost-of-living adjustments). This did not pass muster with the previous Congress. It most likely will with the incoming one. It's a main part of their platform after all.

The impact, however, may not be what the left thinks it will be. Let's consider the consequences – all things being equal – shall we?

Even though the $15 proposal is more than a 60-percent increase to the current minimum wage, for practical purposes let's look at a small business owner with 10 employees. The owner pays each employee $10 an hour (11-percent more than the current minimum wage). Ten employees earning $10 an hour for 40 hours a week cost the business owner $4,000 each week or $208,000 annually. With a $15 an hour minimum wage, the business owner's costs increase to $6,000 each week and $312,000 the first year and more each year thereafter. That's an added expense of $104,000 in the first year.

Where is that business supposed to find an extra $2,000 in weekly revenue? Lord knows if such additional weekly revenue was "out there," it would reveal a pretty lousy business owner who couldn't find it.

(For the record, in my 12 years as a business owner, I have always paid more than minimum wage; and in a previous 12 years in business management, I've always championed increases for hard-working employees. Most business owners do the same. We do not need any additional mandates from Washington, D.C.)

As I've written before, those in Congress who've never run a business – yet insist on telling business owners how to run their respective businesses – ought to read former Democrat U.S. Sen. George McGovern's old column in The Wall Street Journal.

Professor Hanley concludes his essay (see with this: "Where today are the flag-bearers for Smith’s moral argument for markets? Our public discourse suffers when that argument isn’t heard – and this may be the best reason to read 'The Wealth of Nations' now. But what about 'The Theory of Moral Sentiments?'

"Ameri­cans today may stand to gain even more from it. An America notoriously divided and increasingly inimical to 'the other side' would benefit from Smith’s account of sympathy. An America increasingly hostile to facts and susceptible to opinions would do well to understand why Smith championed the impartial spectator. And an America that thinks character is for suckers and all that matters is winning and losing should read Smith on virtue to see whether such a nation is sustainable."

Well said, Professor.

Rory Ryan is publisher and owner of The Highland County Press.