In P.J. O'Rourke's classic bestseller Parliament of Whores, he attempted to explain the
entire United States government. Now, in his most ambitious book since, he takes on an
even broader subject, but one that is dear to us all - wealth. What is it? How do you get
it? Or, as P.J. says, "Why do some places prosper and thrive, while others just
The obvious starting point is Wall Street. P.J. takes the reader on a scary, hilarious, and enlightening visit to the New York Stock Exchange, explaining along the way stocks, bonds, debentures, commodities, derivatives-and why the floor of the exchange is America's last refuge for non-psychotic litterers.
P.J. then sets off on a world tour to investigate funny economics. Having seen "good capitalism" on Wall Street, he looks at "bad capitalism" in Albania, views good socialism" in Sweden, and endures "bad socialism in Cuba. Head reeling, he decides to tackle that Econ. 101 course he avoided in college. The result is the worlds only astute, comprehensive and concise presentation of the basic principles of economics that can make you laugh, on purpose.
Armed with theory, P.J. ventures to Russia in a chapter entitled "How (or How Not) to Reform (Maybe) an Economy (If There Is One) and discovers that Russia is a wonderful case study-unless, of course, you're Russian. P.J. then goes to Tanzania, a country rich in resources that is utterly destitute, before arriving in Hong Kong, which even as the British prepare to hand it over to the communists is a shining example of how unfettered economic activity can "make everything from nothing." P.J. ends up in Shanghai, observing a top-down transition to capitalism, a process he describes as if the ancient Egyptians had constructed the pyramid of Khufu by saying, Thutnefer, you hold up this two-ton pointy piece while the rest of the slaves go get 2,300,000 blocks of stone.
P.J.s conclusion in a nutshell: the free market is ugly and stupid, like going to the mall; the unfree market is just as ugly and just as stupid, except there's nothing in the mall and if you don't go there they shoot you.
Love, Death, and Money
I had one fundamental question about economics: Why do some places prosper
and thrive while others just suck? It's not a matter of brains. No part of the
earth (with the possible exception of Brentwood) is dumber than Beverly Hills,
and the residents are wading in gravy. In Russia, meanwhile, where chess is a
spectator sport, they're boiling stones for soup. Nor can education be the
reason. Fourth graders in the American school system know what a condom is but
aren't sure about 9 x 7. Natural resources aren't the answer. Africa has
diamonds, gold, uranium, you name it. Scandinavia has little and is frozen
besides. Maybe culture is the key, but wealthy regions such as the local mall
are famous for lacking it.
Perhaps the good life's secret lies in civilization. The Chinese had an ancient and sophisticated civilization when my relatives were hunkering naked in trees. (Admittedly that was last week, but they'd ...
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