Pull up a chair, my friends, and listen in on a fake interview with Adam Smith.

Mr. Smith is, regrettably, unavailable for real interviews these days, having gone to meet the Great Economist in the Sky a couple of centuries ago. But since he was by far the most influential of the economic thinkers who gave birth to what is now thought of as the American dream, his counsel seems particularly valuable at this troubled time for our economy.And while I will have to invent the questions for this interview myself, based on items now in the news, the answers are genuine - verbatim writings from the Scottish philosopher's 1776 classic, "The Wealth of Nations," as topically organized and engagingly presented by a Manhattanville College professor, Edward W. Ryan, in his new book, "In the Words of Adam Smith: The First Consumer Advocate" (published by Thomas Horton and Daughters).

That title itself seemed a provocative place to start:

Q. Mr. Smith, what's all this about you being a "consumer advocate"?

A. Consumption is the sole end of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.

Q. You mean you free-market guys are not just out to protect the rich?

A. No society can surely be flourishing and happy, of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.

Q. Gosh, that's pretty radical stuff, Adam. Then why don't you agree with those modern "consumer advocates" who claim that the way to help the underprivileged is with ever more government regulations?

A. Every such regulation introduces some degree of real disorder into the constitution of the state, which it will be difficult afterwards to cure without occasioning another disorder.

Q. Boy, have we found that out, Smitty! But isn't it just tolerating "greed" when we allow a private citizen to pursue his own venal interest?

A. By pursuing his own interest he frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good.

Q. In light of our trade deficit, many Americans think we should raise barriers against imports. What's your view?

A. It is the maxim of every prudent master of a family, never to attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy.

Q. But isn't there a difference between what a family should do and what a nation should do?

A. What is prudence in the conduct of every private family, can scarce be folly in that of a great kingdom.

Q. Easy for you to say, Adam. But the automakers, for example, say Washington should make it harder and more costly for Americans to buy foreign cars. What's wrong with that?

A. To hurt in any degree the interest of any one order of citizens, for no other purpose but to promote that of some other, is evidently contrary to that justice and equality of treatment which the sovereign owes to all the different orders of his subjects.

Q. As you may have noticed, if you still pay attention to such things, the United States Congress changes the tax code about as often as George Steinbrenner used to change managers. Your reaction?

A. The uncertainty of taxation encourages the insolence and favours the corruption of an order of men who are naturally unpopular, even where they are neither insolent nor corrupt.

Q. Which worries you more about the American economy, the "junk bonds" and other private debt excesses of the 1980s, or what goes on in Washington?

A. Great nations are never impoverished by private, though they sometimes are by public prodigality and misconduct.

Q. One last question, Adam: As an advocate of market freedom, you took a dim view of private power concentrations, too. We Americans love to go to business conventions; what do you think of them?

A. People of the same trade seldom meet together even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.

Q. Thank you, Adam Smith.