Chad Bearden's Reviews > Eat the Rich: A Treatise on Economics

Eat the Rich by P.J. O'Rourke
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Nov 13, 2009

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"Eat the Rich" isn't so much a treatise on economics as it is a travelogue with an economics slant.

I really enjoyed reading this work. I found it informative to a degree, and laughed out loud multiple times at O'Rourke's wit. It's obvious to me now that P.J. O'Rourke is the direct literary predecesor of Sarah Vowell. Their politics probably don't synch up too swell, but their writing voices are practically Siamese twins. The humor with which O'Rourke describes and explains such diverse locales and cultures as Shanghai, Tanzania, Sweden, Hong Kong, Cuba, Russia, and Wall Street make this work immenantly readable.

The problem is, it never actually gets around to explaining much. The author does make quite a big deal early on about the weird thing about economics is that it makes no sense and that the experts seem to know less about it than lay people do. And that may be true (or not). But other than pointing out the underlying pros and cons of Socialism and Capitalism as they exist in various cultural and geographical contexts, there is no connective thread that even tries to draw any kind of conclusions.

Well, there sort of is, but it seemed to be a bit off the mark. In his closing chapter, O'Rourke states that wealth is not a bad thing, and frequently gets a bad wrap, as though it were personally responsible for the flip side of the economics coin, poverty. This is very true: wealth is a tool that can be (and sometimes actually is) used for mankind's benefit. But he then goes a step further and claims that wealth in most cases (even if accidentally) used for good, and that people living in poverty shouldn't resent rich people for having nice things! They should just go figure how to get nice things for themselves.

I'm sure O'Rourke could give a detailed explanation of why that is supposed to make sense and be in some way practical advice for poor people, but in the closing pages of "Eat the Rich", he doesn't really make any kind of case at all. He just sites the 10 Commandments ("Thou Shalt Not Covet Thy Neighbors Stuff") and some statistics that show the Life Expectancy and Infant Mortality Rate gaps between wealthy and poor nations have closed over the last few decades. Based on these two things, he concludes that everything is going to be okay.

Had I not read that last chapter, I probably would have awarded this 4 stars. Its clever, funny, insightful, and even if it doesn't have any systematic explanations of how economics work in different countries around the globe, it is still fun to read.
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