O'Rourke: If the 1% had less, would the 99% be better off?

Author P.J. O'Rourke poses for a portrait at Book Soup in Los Angeles, Calif. He says Occupy protesters shouldn't believe in the Zero Sum Fallacy.

Kai Ryssdal: Regardless of how or where the Occupying is being done, the protests have launched important conversations in this country about the wealth gap. We've been riffing on that this week and asking our commentators: If the 1% had less, would the 99% be bettter off?

Here's P.J. O'Rourke.


P.J. O'Rourke: The "Occupy This, That and the Other Place" people are right about the sins of the financial system and right about the evil of government supporting and subsidizing this malfeasance. It's not fair that 1 percent of Americans are rolling in dough while the rest of us are scrimping to pay for our Internet connection so we can go on Groupon.

But the Occupiers are wrong about something much more important. They believe in the Zero Sum Fallacy -- the idea that there is a fixed amount of the good things in life. Anything I get, I'm taking from you. If I have too many slices of pizza, you have to eat the Dominos box. The Zero Sum Fallacy is a bad idea -- dangerous to economics, politics, and world peace. It means any time we want good things we have to fight with each other to get them. We don't. We can make more good things. We can make more pizza -- or more tofu, windmills and solar panels, if you like.

The Zero Sum Fallacy is just that, a fallacy. Economic history since the Industrial Revolution proves -- be the rich however stinking rich -- we ordinary people can make more of the good things in life. But we have to make them ourselves, with our knowledge, skills and hard work. Government can't give us good things. Government doesn't make things, it just redistributes them. This brings us back to fighting with each other.

The good things in life are remarkably expandable, but it's ordinary people who expand them. Look at China, look at India. Yes, it's upsetting that some people have so much while other people have so little. It isn't fair. But I accept this unfairness. Indeed, I treasure it. That's because I have a 13-year-old daughter And that's all I hear, "That's not fair," she says. "That's not fair! That's not fair!" And one day I snapped, and I said, "Honey, you're cute, that's not fair. Your family is pretty well off, that's not fair. You were born in America, that's not fair. Darling, you had better get down on your knees and pray that things don't start getting fair for you."


Ryssdal: P.J. O'Rourke is a political satirist. His newest book is called "Holidays in Heck." You can hear all the commentaries from this series, and offer your answer to the question du jour: If the 1% had less, would the 99% be better off?

About the author

P. J. O'Rourke is a political satirist.

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