For the second time (but probably not the last), I’m going to be reviewing a book about money that is more humorous than straight out informative. Unlike Dave Barry’s Money Secrets, which was an out and out humor book that was only tangentially about money, this week’s book contains plenty of good, accurate information, just written in a humorous manner.
P.J. O’Rourke’s Eat the Rich is, I hope you have guessed, not a cook book about preparing well off as snacks. Instead, it’s a comparison of several of the different types of economies from around the world, from capitalism to socialism and back again. Let’s take a look at some of his findings along the way.
O’Rourke opens with a explanation of his own history of interest in money (starting from his youth as a leftist, becoming the Republican Party member he is today. Then, he covers a series of different types of economies: good capitalism (Wall Street; remember, this book was published back in 1998), bad capitalism (Albania), good socialism (Sweden), and bad socialism (Cuba). There’s little coverage of the details of how the systems work; it’s more of how each system looks from the ground level (although, the Wall Street chapter covers several types of investments that should be familiar to long time readers of The Amateur Financier).
The sixth chapter is an ultra short course in economics (including such profound lessons as ‘You Can’t Have Everything’ and ‘Everyone Gets Paid’), followed by further tours of a variety of economic situations. Post-communist Russia is explored as an economy desperately trying to find the best path, Tanzania is given as an example of a land with tremendous natural resources that has been unable to make anything of itself, Hong Kong is touted as making everything from nothing (and seems to meet the qualification), and Shanghai is given as an example of how to have the worst of both capitalism and socialism.
The book concludes with a rather passionate, well thought out defense of free trade, as well as freedom of all types. O’Rourke does a very good job of defending capitalism, with all its winners and losers, from those who would attempt to limit capitalism’s growth. In particular, he makes a very good argument against redistribution of money in the interest of fairness.
I like P.J. O’Rourke. He makes one of the most compelling case in favor of capitalism in its purest, most unfettered form (as practiced in Hong Kong, for example, where the government provides only the basics of society and allows private enterprise to provide the rest). If you want to read a well-reasoned, rational defense of capitalism, either to bolster your own beliefs or to challenge them,you’d be hard pressed to find a better one than what Mr. O’Rourke provides.
Plus, it’s pretty funny, to boot.
(As an Addendum: I can’t write several hundred words on P.J. O’Rourke without mentioning one of his other books, one that should shed more light on just why the US government does the things that it does. Parliament of Whores is a fantastic guide to the government and exactly our democracy works. Even though O’Rourke is an avowed conservative, the descriptions of Washington politics he gives is surprisingly sympathetic to the trials and tribulations of politicians and bureaucrats. Although, it’s worth noting that he concludes that all governments are a parliament of whores, and in a democracy, the whores are us…)