P. J. O’Rourke is one of my favorite authors and his treatise on economics did not disappoint me.
The book is comprised of eleven satire-filled chapters covering the study of economics and the impacts of economic theories on several nations. O’Rourke deftly explains how communism has created a catastrophe in Cuba and how socialism has somehow survived in Sweden. He presents Tanzania, Albania, and Russia as examples of economic theory gone horribly awry and how the suffering and poverty of the peoples of those nations should be unfavorably compared to the relative prosperity of the United States and Hong Kong. He takes the reader on a whirlwind tour of the planet – from a corporate magazine-financed viewpoint – and shows, warts-and-all – what can happen when good politics is combined with poor management.
The author uses metaphors and simple illustrations to make even very complex economic theories palatable to the most economically ignorant reader. O’Rourke is a comedian at heart, and his use of satire to mock situations which are seemingly insane allows any reader to see how Everyman can be forced into an unhealthy environment by the misapplication of economic ideologies. He also has the uncanny ability to poke fun at even the easiest-to-comprehend economic principles:
“The example of efficiency that economists usually give is guns and butter. A society can produce both guns and butter, they say, but if the society wants to produce more guns it will have to – because of allocation of resources, capital, and labor – produce less butter. Using this example you’ll notice that, at the far reaches of gun-producing efficiency, howitzers are being manufactured by cows. And this is just one of the reasons we can’t take economists too seriously.”
There are 11 essays in this 246 page book. The majority of the statistics and data are from 1997, but the general theories are still applicable and the book should not be considered out-of-date.
The final chapter is a bit weak; it’s almost as if he had to simply finish the book and wasn’t able to complete some of his thoughts in time for publication. That’s certainly not a reason to avoid reading it, though. The rest of the essays are well-written and thought-provoking and if you read it you will learn more about economics than you ever could have in ECO101.
I highly recommend this book.