7 thoughts on “Self-Help by Samuel Smiles – still relevant today”

  1. Posted 18/03/2009 at 10:52 | Permalink

    Much that is very interesting and relevant to our times. Did he invent the phrase, “we got up an hour before we went to bed and licked road clean wi’t’ tongue” that later appeared in the “Four Yorkshiremen” sketch?

  2. Posted 18/03/2009 at 10:59 | Permalink

    To me a more satisfactory, if perhaps more cynical, argument for personal responsibility is that of Herbert Spencer: “The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools.”

    Most parents know that, to some extent, one has to let one’s children learn from their mistakes. That helps them to grow up. If the ‘Nanny State’ is always ‘protecting’ people, then indeed they are likely to remain State-dependent. John Stuart Mill had plenty to say about that.

  3. Posted 18/03/2009 at 16:41 | Permalink

    “His first great insight is that people should look to themselves rather than to institutions or the state in order to prosper.”

    That has to be the loosest definition of an insight that I’ve ever come across!


  4. Posted 18/03/2009 at 18:16 | Permalink

    Perhaps it is harder now for people to help themselves than it was in the 19th century. Those wanting to get on to the first rung of the employment ladder face very high marginal withdrawal rates in the tax and benefits systems, while start-up entrepreneurs face a barrage of red-tape. Many of Smiles’ heroes surely wouldn’t have succeeded in the context of today’s highly regulated business environment.

  5. Posted 19/03/2009 at 11:59 | Permalink

    I think you are being a bit harsh, John. It may not be a profound insight but it is an insight the application of which has profound importance, not just for public policy but also for the way in which persons think about themselves. The charities that really deal on the ground with people in very difficult situations are increasingly coming to the view that what Smiles said is true. However, those who are remote from the real suffering of people in need still tend to think that the key to dealing with the problems of the poor lies in giving them government money. This not only an alternative to them helping themselves it actively works against ethic of self help.

  6. Posted 29/03/2009 at 02:20 | Permalink


    It is just as easy for anyone to help him or herself today as ever. It is only that government constantly places artificial roadblocks in front of them. You are right that it is much harder to get started, but not because of people, but because of government meddlers. Smiles had incredible insight in much of what he wrote. The lessons are at least as important today as when he wrote them.

  7. Posted 29/03/2009 at 08:55 | Permalink

    There is also another well known Russian saying:
    “Resquing of the sinking one is the business of hands of the sinking one.” I knew this phrase for decades, but only recently I had the idea that it has also economic sense.

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