Friday, January 30, 2015

Eat the Rich by P.J. O'Rourke

 I don't read enough of O'Rourke. Those books of his which I have read, however, I have enjoyed, and Eat the Rich is no letdown, either. O'Rourke takes us on a journalistic journey through the wilds of Wall Street, Albania, Sweden, Russia, Tanzania, Cuba, Hong Kong and Shanghai, touring the economic landscape in his understated humorous way.

His conclusion, after all his exploration, seems to be that the worst people to put in charge of an economy...are economists. The best thing a government can do for an economy is just to get the heck out of the way, it appears.

Interesting factoids from around the globe:

Though we all think that the stock market is either all in a bear cycle or all in a bull cycle, with shares changing hands everywhere, "There are 207 billion shares registered on the Ne York Stock Exchange. In an absolute buying and selling frenzy, less than 0.6 percent of those shares changed hands. Investment usually stays invested."

In O'Rourke's dry humor "...the study of economics is divided into two fields, microeconomics and macroeconomics. Micro is the study of individual economic behavior, and macro is the study of how economies behave as a whole. That is, microeconomics concerns things that economists are specifically wrong about, while macroeconomics concerns things economists are wrong about generally."

An interesting method for teaching economics was related by nineteenth century expert Alfred Marshall,

"(1) User mathematics as a shorthand language, rather than as an engine of enquiry. (2) Keep to them until you have done. (3) Translate into English (4) Then illustrate by examples that are important in real life. (5) Burn the mathematics."

A treatise on the nature of money,

"Anything that's used to measure value, if it has value itself, is commodity money. Societies that didn't have fifty-dollar bills picked one or two commodities as proto-simoleons. The Aztecs used cocoa beans for money, North Africans used salt (hence salary), medieval Norsemen used butter and dried cod, and heir ATM machines were a mess."

On dining in a Russian restaurant,

"The next night I went to Uncle Gillie's, which had California cuisine in perfection. My chicken had not only been allowed to range free, it had been given aroma therapy and stress counseling."

and Russian business practices,

"Russia does not yet have an effective system of civil law. The only way to enforce a contract is, as it were, with a contract - and plenty of enforcers. What would be litigiousness in New York is a hail of bullets in Moscow. Instead of a society infested with lawyers, they have a society infested with hit men. Which is worse, of course, is a matter of opinion."

The money quote, wherein according to Marx's theory of Surplus Value, anytime you hire someone, you are exploiting him.

"The terrific corruption that now exists in Russia was not caused by the collapse of Marxism-Leninism. It was caused by Marx and Lenin."

Experts occasionally blame lack of education for Tanzania's woes, but Tanzanians,

"were exposed to science, math, and technology by Muslims, beginning in the eighth century. That's 800 years before anyone who could read or recite multiplication tables arrived in North America. True, Arab traders came for the purposes of stealing slaves and pillaging ivory. But the harbingers of civilization rarely arrived anywhere in order to deliver Girl Scout cookies."

On baboons,

"I wondered if this troop was us four million years ago. If so, the baboons are probably plotting revenge upon thepredators. 'Soon as we evolve, we take the natural habitat and pave its ass.'"

On Hong Kong,

"Laissez-faire isn't Tanzanian administrative sloth or Albanian popular anarchy. Quite a bit of government effort is required to create a system in which government leaves people alone."

All joking aside, O'Rourke's sum total of what is required for a person or a nation to prosper is the following six ingredients:

  • Hard work
  • Education
  • Responsibility
  • Property rights
  • Rule of law
  • Democratic government

A good and entertaining read, though a bit dated, being published in 1998, though my impression is that what we've seen in the last decade and a half is pretty much more of the same from these countries and areas where he traveled.

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