P.J. O'Rourke Bites

P.J. O'Rourke Bites

P.J. O'Rourke's ninth book has an ambitious agenda. He plans to explain the mystery of economics — or at least point out what's wrong with many countries' economies. Second, if these countries buy his book and take notes, presumably world poverty will be drastically reduced. Last but apparently least, he intends to make his readers laugh.

In his effort to understand the alleged science of economics, O'Rourke does some reading in the literature's canon (Adam Smith et al) and visits foreign countries, some of which have economies and some that don't, such as Cuba. He also visits China and Hong Kong, and while he is on the subject wonders why the British didn't go to war over the island the way they did over the Falkland Islands. It's a silly question, but in keeping with the tone of much of the rest of the book.

Here is the author on the seemingly intractable issue of poverty: "But what poverty is not sad. Poverty is infuriating. These things don't have to happen. These conditions don't need to exist. We can't solve all the problems of life, but we can solve the problems of gross, worldwide material deprivation."

The O'Rourke solution to what infuriates him is free enterprise, unfettered, good old-fashioned freedom like we have here in the good old U.S. of A, where presumably there is no poverty. He doesn't really go into the details. He simply points out how well we're doing compared with Cuba.

To be fair (which is a strain), there are moments of humor and even enlightenment. O'Rourke has done his homework and can be insightful. Also, unlike most dull economic texts, the reader can find words that are almost as raunchy as those in the Starr Report.

The first clue that this book might not be laugh-out-loud funny is the cover. It shows the author preparing to dine, with a fork in one hand and a knife in the other. He has a tired, bordering-on-pained smirk on his face, as if to say, "When will this silly photo session be over?" Many readers will ask themselves a similar question halfway through O'Rourke's opus.