In this humorous and witty excursion into the world of economics, P.J. O’Rourke attempts to answer a basic question: What is wealth? How do you get it? Why do some countries prosper and thrive while others remain mired in poverty and despair?
Starting with Wall Street, where what he calls “good capitalism” thrives, he journeys to Albania, a land of “bad capitalism” where the free market has collapsed; to Sweden to study “good socialism” to see if it is a “socialist paradise” as many believe, then to Cuba to observe “bad socialism” where Fidel Castro presides over a crumbling economy. Travels to Russia, Tanzania, Hong Kong, and Shanghai show how difficult economic reform can be for countries in financial distress or undergoing political change. Along the way he recounts the plight of the ordinary people he met, in many countries living the barest of existences. O’Rourke reminds us that behind the economic theories are real people struggling to acquire and maintain a decent standard of living, as well as entire countries wrestling with poverty, unstable currencies, and political corruption.
The chapter on basic economics, “From Beatnik to Business Major: Taking Econ 101 for Kicks” is a hilarious summary of classic economic theory, but also one of the best common-sense explanations of the basics of wealth and poverty around; it should be required reading for all college business majors.
He concludes that in spite of its inherent faults, the surest way out of poverty is the free market. Wealth, he says, is the result of economic liberty, while poverty comes from economic repression. Free market capitalism is not perfect, and at times it is not fair to everyone, but it does work.
EAT THE RICH: A TREATISE ON ECONOMICS is a book for all those interested in the mysteries of wealth and poverty, both to laugh and to learn from.