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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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Re: "I had a dream...blah, blah. blah"

Get real. A bunch of greedy losers went and took out mortgages on houses they could never afford and they didn't make their payments. So, the houses they shouldn't have been in to begin with went into foreclosure.

Big whoop.

Who cares? Try earning for a change. Pay your own way. Or die. Either way, works for me. Just stop whining.

What a stupid comment. Banks do not repossess a persons home that is current on their morgage payments. It does not happen! Life is not fair but in this country you have an equal chance to pursue your dreams.....the decisions you make go a long way in determining your own personal out comes. That is a great opertunity that we get in this country but along with that opertunity comes responsibility so put on your big boy pants and take personal responsibility for your decisions.

As many other people have already done, I'm going to say that Mr. O'Rourke misses the mark. Specifically, I see two different failings in his argument.

First: there ARE some aspects of wealth which are finite, and which must be rationed. We humans are running up against very real physical resource limits -- clean water, arable land, energy resources. It is clear that increased efficiencies and technological innovation will only carry us so far in making these resources go around.

Second: just because there are SOME aspects of wealth which are theoretically unlimited, and "created" by nothing more than human ingenuity and effort, that doesn't mean that this is the kind of wealth that the one percent has been accruing. The wealthy have been accumulating MONEY. We may have an information economy -- but we still have to eat, keep a roof over our heads, and see doctors when we get sick. You have to pay for these things with MONEY.

Last time I checked, the Federal Reserve bank wasn't printing dollars and depositing them, interest-free, in my bank account. To earn that privilege, I apparently need to be part of the one percent -- and it would really help my case if my name were Goldman or Sachs.

Re: "We humans are running up against very real physical resource limits -- clean water, arable land, energy resources."

Have you ever even seen a science textbook?

Please do tell me where the water is going, because I've always been under the apparently insane impression that it was trapped here on Earth by gravity...

Arable land shortages? Where? Can we stop with the agricultural subsidies then?

I mean what in world kind of cave did you people crawl out of?

I'm gonna bet that many of you here are believers in things like Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, UFOs, Ouija boards, Tarot cards, ESP, "organic" foods, "alternative medicine", chiropractors, global warming, the "health benefits" of magnets, and the Easter Bunny.

Am I right?

Of course I am....it's an SEIU convention in cyberspace.

Like Mr. O'Rourke, I teach my children that life isn't fair and that, to get what you want you have to work for it. But I also teach my children that just because life isn't fair, that doesn't mean they shouldn't be fair either. Or generous for that matter.
The fallacy of Mr. O'Rourke and others on the right is that they interpret the word "fairness" as expressed by OWS, et al., as equality of outcome and that is not what is meant. Fairness means fairness of opportunity. As the one percent continue to hoard money as though this were a game of Monopoly, that leaves lesser opportunities for small entrepreneurs.
Furthermore, most of us, until very recently, have remained quiet as our politicians, including President Obama, saved Wall Street from their self-inflicted wound called credit default swaps. We remained silent because we understood that, while it might be more viscerally appealing to watch CEOs frog-marched out of their buildings, it would likely do more harm to the country as a whole. And so, we helped them out. And they got to keep their jobs. And they got to keep their bonuses. I don't begrudge them that.
But as soon as they start kicking people out of their houses with robo-signers and letting the houses go to waste with rot and mold rather than working with the people in the houses, well, I've got a problem with that. I have a problem with helping someone out and having them turn around and beat me up. It reminds me of the line from Alfred Hitchcock's "Lifeboat": what do you do with people like that?

"As the one percent continue to hoard money as though this were a game of Monopoly, that leaves lesser opportunities for small entrepreneurs. "

So you have two choices.

1) Set up a system that benefits instead of punishes investment and new opportunities. Less regulation and costs... entice them to invest.

2) Punish investment more and more every year while railing at the investors for deciding that investing in the current structure of shifting goals and higher punishment for investment isn't worthwhile.

You've got an odd definition of "help"... how much more do you need to load up costs, regulations, and invective on them to "help" them? If I took more money from you, punished you for investing, and called you names daily... would you feel I was "helping"?

I've been thinking about this for several days. I can't believe that Market Place would broadcast such uninformed bunk. We're not talking pizzas and sweaters from the gap. We are talking about a huge amount of money that has been pulled off the streets and put into bank accounts never to see the light of day. Unlike sweaters from the gap, there is a FINITE amount of money issued by the government and when a staggering amount of that money is pulled out of the everyday economy no jobs bill, no tax credit, no highway improvements bill is going to help. Until the rich either spend that money or have it rightly taken back, we the people are going to be scrimping, eating beans and looking for jobs other than cleaning the robber barons homes and cooking their dinners.

PJ O'Rourke ... are you that uninformed or are you drinking.... or rather serving the cool aid of the Republican Party???

Yep. A 'staggering amount' of money was pulled out of the economy by Obama's 'Stimulus'. Just sucked the oxygen right out.

Obama has created an atmosphere which damps the creative fires of our businesses. When his government can ignore bankruptcy law and stiff GM's bondholders, why should anyone put his money at risk? You want an improved economy? Get rid of Obama.

So the 'rich' are going to look you up and give you money? The theses of redistribution makes no sense if you are talking about moving ahead and not just sitting on a government welfare roll. The 'cool aid' exists in the take-care-of-me Democrat party.

Since I heard this, I have been thinking about it because it made me so mad! To me it sounds like this man is very out of touch. I don't want more stuff!!! I want access to decent health care and a decent education! It might be nice to take a vacation every once in a while. It would be nice if got paid for the holidays I am forced to take off work. It would be nice if I had enough money left over after paying bills and student loans to go out to eat or go see a concert...

I am a nurse who takes care of medically fragile children. A job which requires post high school education and which is also pretty essential in a civilized society and yet I live paycheck to paycheck. If I wasn't burden with student loan debt my life would be allot different. The value in our society are all messed up. Choosing a career that helps society shouldn't mean at life at the margin of poverty!

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