I wrote this August 25, 2000 for my US Government AP. It's not that great but if you want to take it then at least give me a holler back.
EAT THE RICH: TREATISE ON ECONOMICS
Book review on P. J. O’Rouke
's Eat the Rich: Treatise on Economics
New York, New York, Published 1998
O’Rouke is a well accomplished conservative American journalist who graduated from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and later at John Hopkins. In the early 70’s, O’Rouke edited several underground publications including the National Lampoon in 1973. After leaving the Lampoon in 1981, O’Rouke became a freelance writer for a diverse group of publications ranging from Car and Driver to Rolling Stone.
With his latest publication, O’Rouke has traversed the global frontier trying to find out, while poking fun at, why so many people fail to achieve economic success, and if they did why can’t they maintain it in the first place. O’Rouke gives interpretive looks at various countries in various forms of economic salvation and using simple logic based on scant true scholastic theories points out the blatantly obvious of why education, natural resources, culture, or civilization isn’t the direct cause of wealth. From learning about the stock market to seeing the collapsing autonomy of Sweden to reviewing the drastically contrasting class warfare in Hong Kong to the existence of Tanzania, O’Rouke is a cynic to the core and humorist second, and a man trying to understand economics third.
O’Rouke first begins by confessing his finite amount of knowledge in the economic field. However he is not phased by his lack of knowledge, O’Rouke was able to go into a complete tirade about the complete inanity of economics as a whole though. Noting that he detested learning about the economy simply because of the fact that it is a very boring and mundane subject to him as a child. As he got older, he argued that it was because of the counter-culture against the status quo that prevented him from ever caring about economics in college. While that may just seem like laziness to some, to his defense, O’Rouke also argued that around the 70’s and 80’s the status quo wasn’t much better off anyways. Globalization, the sudden exchange of profit, the high dependence on importation, gold standard dropped, and the fact that oil was suddenly unavailable showed how the world couldn’t handle on its own. He named off Nixon, Carter, Mao, Harold Wilson and the likes as simply being nincompoops incapable of much.
O’Rouke then tried to jump right in at learning about rich and poor by trying to go back to take some economic classes, ones maybe he should have taken in his earlier years. But again, he found the absurdity in not only the people he meets in the classes but the professors and textbooks he encounters. Quoting that these professors bull through their careers since they can barely understand Marxism in context of global relations and that textbooks offers simply an expensive alternative to paperweights, there seems little or anything at all in the current institution of higher learning to provide an accurate view of what and how economics is used.
O’Rouke then redefines his search by looking into good economy or more rather good capitalism, as that seems to be the only way people get to be rich. And the most fundamental institution of America’s great and proud function of capitalism is of course the stock market, the New York stock market to be exact. But even before examining it, O’Rouke points out what should be another blatant obvious absurdity. The New York Stock Exchange physically is nothing but a huge building with rooms filled with teetering towards middle-aged men dressed in ridiculous jackets flaking around with a complete lack and loss of their dignity in order to wave around and scream on the top of their lungs to buy, sell, hold, short, hedge, or grow to conform to a seemingly erratic and volatile stock ticker that spews out simply letters and numbers. And this, he notes, is the greatest single feat of capitalism can ever succeed in. this sort of insipid behavior allows America to be great? That surely can’t be it? Can it? O’Rouke contrasted his depth in good capitalism by also looking at bad capitalism.
Albania in their height of wealth in the early 90’s was a much different place. Coming out of the Soviet Union the Albanians got hooked onto a pyramid scheme so complex and large that it engulfed the entire country. And as with all things giant that go up, they must fall. And when the Albanian money giant fell it fell hard, dragging with it everything and everyone. Now Albania is a country in turmoil, where money stand for little besides toilet paper and trade is reduced to trash.
O’Rouke next looks into socialism and found to his advantage to note the complete failure of socialism in Cuba. Bad socialism, O’Rouke contests, is a two way street. Noting that had not the embargo as enforced by the United States, Cuba might actually not be a bad place. Having all the big restaurants be nationalized, O’Rouke found out that still, if having hard currency he could still get all the luxury he would ever want. Lobsters, steak, cigars, and rum all flow free with the encouragement of the almighty dollar. But even with such a great funnel to luxury, people are still poor. Rarely anyone can afford such food or goods and hence the tyranny America forces an embargo. But free enterprise is in turn the antidote to such a problem, freeing the people of Cuba and in turn Castro no longer has an excuse. But alas, the stupidity of humanity rear its face and we see the problem of economics once more. But still, socialism is never all that bad, right? If done right then obvious the result will be something close to Sweden. Having the top GDP in the world, and the second greatest after Japan, Sweden took care of you from cradle to grave. Taxed heavily though, O’Rouke notes and with a plummeting deficit that’s never caught up since the expense of caring for a country so huge, Sweden quickly folded as the economy shrank smaller and smaller.
We then follow O’Rouke to Russia where he now looks at a complete paradox. It was clear that in the end, capitalism won out to socialism and hence Russia’s clear decent to chum with the idea of capitalism. This didn’t fly however in the a country so absorbed into socialism that “soda pop tasted like soap, the soap lathered like toilet paper, the toilet paper could be used to sand furniture, the furniture was as comfortable as a pile of canned goods, the canned goods had the flavor of a Solzhenitsyn novel, and a Solzhenitsyn novel got you arrested if you owned one. Now the Russians have discovered brand names.” Yes, try as they might, Russia’s reform of a reform failed horribly in that people still can not do anything right for themselves. And now without a governing body it is but a country rampant without civil law. It has sunk deep into a place of insecurity and chaos.
So then what does work? O’Rouke visits Tanzania to see how to make nothing from everything. Tanzania is dirt poor and its currency is worthless and yet people still live and people still manage to trade. Be it coconut shells or not. Yet Tanzania is a peaceful place. It’s not crowded and there are ample people and resources able to turn it into a great economy powerhouse. Yet it is poor, worse than dirt poor. Principles of economy much sharper now thanks to O’Rouke’s efforts. What’s different though is in Hong Kong the exact opposite holds true.
Hong Kong is a direct parallel of Tanzania. In a conflict-ridden, grossly over-populated, convoluted place with no resources whatsoever, Hong Kong is one of the richest places in the world. The British didn’t do anything and yet here it is, one of Asia’s crown jewels. O’Rouke saw on the streets grandmothers peddling spare wares talking on cell phones and people here all drive Rolls Royces, except they don’t do it physically, they get drivers coming from the mainland china desperate for a job like this. Is this how wealth is derived from? Is Hong Kong the best example of contemporary laissez faire or just a polished mask on a scarred face? Hidden away in the alleys and corners of Hong Kong there still exists poverty. People living in cramped quarters forced to share a single faucet and bathtub with the whole block. What truly makes a rich country that everyone can jump into?
Throughout O’Rouke’s travel in the world he found out quite a few things. Education is not a cause for success; Russia’s interest in mind challenging activities doesn’t directly correlate with wealth. America, not reigning high in national scholastic average is able to be the richest country in the world. Natural resources rich countries such as Africa still live on the ground, perhaps just a few shades better had they been living in trees instead. Culture is almost non-existent in America and proliferating like mad in Europe yet America is the one importing everything globally. Great civilization such as the Chinese could have blasted the Europeans to smithereens and yet in the modern age, we have virtually 1.5 billion zombie slaves listening to every word a single group of old old men are still saying.
O’Rouke encountered many strange things in his travels and he has done hard analysis into what makes a place prosper and thrive and yet with his extensive knowledge he found nothing to support the conventional theories of economics. Everything just sucks and economy, no matter how astutely presented can never be explained, as it is nothing but a paradox throughout the world. The free market is ugly and stupid, the unfree market is just as ugly and just as stupid except you die faster. The world is just a scary place.