Wodehouse, whom, of course, I adore, was a master at bringing off the same effect again and again, but he was so good at it that it worked every time. It's like Mariano Rivera's cutter: you know he's going to throw it, but you're still helpless.
Adam Smith complete lack of affect, his utter refusal to take sides, I also find devastating. Check this passage out, about wage-slave/boss disputes:
It is not, however, difficult to foresee which of the two parties must, upon all ordinary occasions, have the advantage in the dispute, and force the other into a compliance with their terms. The masters, being fewer in number, can combine much more easily; and the law, besides, authorises, or at least does not prohibit their combinations, while it prohibits those of the workmen. We have no acts of parliament against combining to lower the price of work; but many against combining to raise it. In all such disputes the masters can hold out much longer....Many workmen could not subsist a week, few could subsist a month, and scarce any a year without employment. In the long-run the workman may be as necessary to his master as his master is to him; but the necessity is not so immediate.I find this totally bleak, but in Smith's refusal to put his thumb on the scales of this dispute -- his utter Olympian distance -- makes it even bleaker. Oh, speaking of bleak:
...the lowest species of common labourers must every where earn at least double their own maintenance, in order that one with another they may be enabled to bring up two children; the labour of the wife, on account of her necessary attendance on the children, being supposed no more than sufficient to provide for herself. But one-half the children born, it is computed, die before the age of manhood. The poorest labourers, therefore, according to this account, must, one with another, attempt to rear at least four children, in order that two may have an equal chance of living to that age.I find this incredibly sad, but I think I would find it less so if it were written to make me sad. Maybe it's because Smith is concerned with the calculation of the laborer -- so we're less outside his hovel, having pity on him; rather, we're inside figuring out what we do when one of the kids dies of cholera.
You know where things aren't so sad? America:
Labour is there so well rewarded that a numerous family of children, instead of being a burthen is a source of opulence and prosperity to the parents. The labour of each child, before it can leave their house, is computed to be worth a hundred pounds clear gain to them. A young widow with four or five young children, who, among the middling or inferior ranks of people in Europe, would have so little chance for a second husband, is there frequently courted as a sort of fortune.Was this really true? I suppose there were tons of widows. It occurs to me that Adam Smith is not only one of the founders of economics, the study of the Wealth of Nations and so forth, but also the founder of Freakonomics, the study of why men like widows and which ones.