Chapter 3 of P. J. O’Rourke's Eat the Rich focuses on Albania. He examines Albania in accord with one thesis point of the book, that being that Albania had a unique past and near-present history. He examines the unique geographic characteristics of Albania and the unique national character of Albania. He examines the economic collapse in Albania following the end of communism and the collapse of the national pyramid schemes. He summarizes by restating his thesis that different histories create different national economies.
O’Rourke begins by describing the geographical situation of Albanian villages on hilltops and contrasts these hilltop villages against other mid-European villages clustered on hillsides. The reason for hilltop villages is defense: hilltops are easy to defend, suggesting a historical onslaught of enemy attacks.
The most dramatic and salient feature of the Albanian national character, which O’Rourke paints as easy-going and undisciplined (illustrated by their car driving traits), is the open proliferation of weapons among its citizenry (accelerated by the collapse of the communist regime in Albania). He tells a story of seeing a man walking with his small son, holding him by the hand while in his other hand he openly carried an AK-47. O’Rourke says in his personable (and humorous) writing style:
I saw a middle-aged man in civilian clothes walking along what used to be Boulevard Stalin, holding his five-year-old son by one hand and an AK-47 in the other.
O’Rourke discusses the economic collapse that resulted from the withdrawal of the communist regime in 1992. He explains that "the nation was broke and was kept from starving only by foreign aid" and charitable contributions from expatriated Albanians living in other countries. The reaction of Albanians was in accord with the "philosophy of nihilism," with total social, cultural, governmental and economic collapse all round.
Then came the advent of pyramid schemes, intended to be a recourse to the total collapse of Albania. The first pyramid scheme--an investment strategy that usually has no collateral backing it, no legitimate investment underlying it, and that generates income from the money invested in the scheme itself--was designed to restore economic prosperity. It eventually collapsed but was followed by the entrepreneurial system wherein many, many, many individual business people created their own collateral-investment-in-the-sky pyramid schemes in which just about every Albanian put their money. In 1997 (the year O’Rourke visited Albania), all the pyramids came tumbling down. The exploding pyramid schemes left Albania in a renewed economic disaster.
O’Rourke summarizes his investigation of Albania in 1997 by attempting to say to "the wire-service reporter and a couple of other stateside hacks" that "'Albanians are just like anybody else.' ... 'They're crazy,' said the wire-service reporter." O’Rourke retorted with his thesis, saying that "'They just have a different history, different traditions, a different set of political and economic circumstances.'" He ended his argument abruptly in silence as he watched a "handsome" Albanian family, with a "cute four-year-old girl," while the father "offered a fresh [Marlboro] cigarette to the little girl, and gave her a light." O’Rourke falters in asserting normality based on "different circumstances" to the collapse of the Albanian economy.