Eat The Rich
- P.J. O'Rourke -
This is a book that I keep hearing about. I first ran across mention of this book while reading some random article about 'the best humour books' that came across my webfeed thingy on the top of my email (at work I might add...I read it on my lunchbreak ok?). Then it turns out to be February's bookclub book on the BBC's radio program The Strand. So, I instantly went to the library's website and looked it up...yes! It was in! I could start my humourous journey through the world of economics. Yes, I'm that dorky!
Just before starting this book I read through an issue of MAD magazine. Remember MAD? Well, our library has a few copies, they are in the basement in the 'teen' section...yes, I'll admit it, I was wandering through the teen section, but, I like to make full use of all areas of the library. Funny though, I should read MAD and then start Eat the Rich. They are strikingly similar. Both are satires to the extreme...and in fact, I wouldn't be surprised in the least if O'Rourke was a writer for MAD.
Back to the world of economics in Eat the Rich. O'Rourke dishes out a very tongue-in-cheek summary on the basic theories of economics. You may be familiar with a few; supply & demand etc. Being a business major in university I had the joy of taking the required micro/macro economics for years so I found this sarcastic view of economics very funny. As for the non-business minded people - you won't understand a thing. When he starts into the theory of comparative advantages I'm sure all you'll get is that he is insulting John Grisham and Courtney Love through a chart somehow! Actually, this is only one small section that is laid out like a textbook with graphs and charts (this is the part that made me think of MAD the most) which look almost exactly like my first year econ book. O'rourke's charts end up making funny jokes like point B and point S make BS (haha). This is funny, but, I have a real world example that made this even funnier. In my first year econ we had a 'cool' prof. She let us have cheat sheets, told us exactly what was going to be on the exam, and get this : she made charts with the supply/demand curves for funny things likes smokes and booze! How cool was she!?
PJ also takes us on a trip through the world looking at different economies to try and figure out which one is the best. Being an American seems to have tainted his vision a bit, er a lot. His travels consist of criticizing the country he is visiting and slyly comparing it to the overwhelming success (his opinion) of the US. The only positive visit he had was to Wall Street! He thought those screaming/rushing/greedy stockbrokers were just wonderful guys. The polite reasonable citizens of Sweden did nothing for him. In fact, their generous 'welfare' state benefits (like maternity leave) were almost criminal in his mind. How can a country just pay people to 'not work'? Then he berates their high taxes and their word/philosophy 'lagom' (which means something similar to 'just enough', as in not greedy not impoverished just good...er just click the link). From the ol' capitalist point of view I can see his argument that money in the US may make more profit than that in Sweden...but, strangely he completely left out any of those surveys/rankings that put quality of life in Sweden in the top few countries, while his precious US always hovers around the double digits. There is a lot more to life than money O'Rourke! Ok, enough with my soap box speech back to the book.
There were a few good points to the book. The wide range of vocabulary PJ uses is astounding. He sent me searching through my dictionary a couple of times - per page! Unfortunately, many times the word did not show up. I guess many of his words were quasi-fictitious words, as in understandable but not dictionary-worthy (see I can make up words too!). Even with all these rarely used words, in a veiled attempt to confuse the reader, the writing was clear.
Now onto the 'bad' parts. How about we start with O'Rourke's remarks about Canadians? The only mention about Canadians in this book is when PJ is visiting Cuba strangely enough. While explaining the tourist industry in Cuba he throws some off-colour remark about the only visitors seem to be Canadians who's idea of a good time is visiting the all-you-can-eat salad bar for seconds. How insulting! Even before this hurtful comment I noticed the book had a very negative tone. Most of the 'witty' comments/jokes were just blatant insults of other countries.
I did manage to catch part of the BBC's bookclub when they had their interview with O'Rourke and I was a bit taken back. He sounded nice! No insults, no negative comments...in fact, he said he felt very positive about the future of the world, even after the 'economic meltdown' in the US. It was a complete 180 from his writing in Eat the Rich!
Rating: DO NOT READ*
*Only read if you have run out of MAD magazines and want to hear more American-centric world views...and it helps if you have a degree in Economics and can catch the subtle econ-jokes.