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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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I heard this while driving in the car. I was yelling, "Yes! Yes! That's it!" Thank you for speaking the truth and cutting to the chase!

"cutting to the chase". I hear that a lot of people like this kind of quality in american politicians nowadays. It seems to stand for a blatant ignorance of facts and a simple venting of frustrations (often personal) that seem to resonate with people like you.

It's hard with such a word-wizard as O'Pourke to know where facetious morphs into specious. He begins by telling us that, despite appearances, we live on an unlimited planet, complete with "free lunch" (if only we're resourceful enough to find it); and closes with the classic "I got mine" trope of "thank your lucky stars that you weren't born a Publican (etc- fill in the blank)". Thank goodness he stays true to his well-off white-guy Republican mien and keeps it "compassion-free"... so I can keep the treacle out of my tea. ^..^

@TheWashingtonEagleal

Seriously. What percent of the top 1% do you think was responsible for or benefited from the mortgage meltdown??? It seems to me the OWS is painting with an verylarge brush. Btw, do you remember the TARP vote count by party? Most Democrats voted to bailout the banks. The majority of Republicans voted against the bailouts: http://clerk.house.gov/evs/2008/roll681.xml Lastly, the Tea Party was emphatically against the bank bailouts. Isn't it funny how the biggest detractors of the Tea Party movement have amnesia about what the Tea Party railed against?

Finally. Love this guy. If you're going to hate the 1%, don't patronize any of them. Get rid of your iPhones, your iPads, basically anything technologically advanced. Don't watch TV, don't go to the movies....don't worship celebrities. Don't shop at Walmart, don't buy anything made in China so your jobs won't be outsourced. Wake up people, don't complain that you have nothing yet you contribute to the 1%'s paycheck. I agree that there are some evil rich people out there who are sociopaths but not all successful, wealthy people are bad. There are doctors, scientists, engineers who are part of that 1% and they are major contributors to the improvement of our society.

@TomKaz - So if it's simply impossible to deliver the conveniences of modern living in the USA without becoming an indentured servants to the corporatists who provide it, then we sure did get the house-hold innovation of television on a steal, didn't we? Oh, and how about refrigeration, or central heating, or civil aviation, or open-heart surgery or Eval Kneval, Ferrah Faucet and Marlyn Monroe. What about The Beatles?? Heck, we even had to import them, didn't we? No, I'm sorry. Your argument is so stale that it was even lampooned on Saturday Night Live a few weeks ago. In fact they even mentioned the very items you did. I'm certain that's where you got your weak argument from.

@fobarski
"the belief that they should pay NOTHING toward the support of this country..." What are you talking about? The top 1% of wage earners pay 38% of all Federal income taxes, but only earn 17% of all income. Enough with the myths.

@ TomKaz - I call poo-poo (in the interest of self censorship) on your data. You're not counting Capital Gains and all the other ways the wealthy make money. Their income is far greater when you factor in all asset amortization. Where are you getting that data from?

@fobarski
"I do NOT believe in the 'Zero Sum Fallacy'...the rich take an ever larger proportion of the ever growing pie." WTF? Read your own comment. Of course you believe in the Zero Sum Fallacy! There is no such thing as a collectively owned, static pie of wealth.

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