Idiotic! Right-winger P.J. O'Rourke Praises Capitalism in Wall Street Journal By Comparing It to a Pizza
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P.J. O’Rourke recently attacked President Obama and expounded on the beauties of capitalism in a Wall Street Journal column: “ Dear Mr. President, Zero-Sum Doesn’t Add Up,” in which he claims that the following metaphor explains the President’s world view and policy choices: “life [is] like a pizza, where if some people have too many slices, other people have to eat the pizza box.” In other words, a zero-sum interaction occurs when one party’s gain must exactly match the other party’s loss.
What in the world is the Right's favorite conservative contrarian talking about? Let's take a closer look at O'Rourke's pizzaria philosophy.
Austerity shovels pizza to the rich
O’Rourke creates two, related straw man positions that he falsely ascribes to Obama.
“But the worst thing that you’ve done internationally is what you’ve done domestically. You sent a message to America in your re-election campaign. Therefore you sent a message to the world. The message is that we live in a zero-sum universe.
There is a fixed amount of good things. Life is a pizza. If some people have too many slices, other people have to eat the pizza box. You had no answer to Mitt Romney‘s argument for more pizza parlors baking more pizzas. The solution to our problems, you said, is redistribution of the pizzas we’ve got—with low-cost, government-subsidized pepperoni somehow materializing as the result of higher taxes on pizza-parlor owners.”
Actually, Obama’s central economic policy was actually to spur economic growth – a positive-sum policy. To spur growth, Obama proposed a program of moderate stimulus, which House Republicans and conservative (“Blue Dog”) Democrats reduced to modest levels that did not come close to replacing the enormous drop in public sector demand caused by the Great Recession’s severe rise in unemployment. Obama’s policy positive-sum growth policy, even though it was weakened by his conservative opposition’s negative-sum policies, produced what UMKC macro-economists (and other progressive economists) predicted – modest growth. The eurozone’s negative-sum austerity policy, as our macro-economists predicted, threw the eurozone back into a gratuitous recession.
The Great Recession caused a massive redistribution of income and the gratuitous second eurozone recession is continuing to do so. The recessions largely redistribute income towards the wealthy. O’Rourke calls redistribution “evil,” but seems not to understand that his recommended policy of austerity is a leading driver of redistribution towards the wealthy. O’Rourke expresses no opposition to the eurozone continuing policies that redistribute income towards the wealthy. His complaint is that we are not following the eurozone’s negative-sum policies that (under O’Rourke’s metaphor) reduce pizza production and increasingly segment the surviving production between premium pizzas that only the wealthy can eat regularly and round things whose taste resembles the taste of the pizza box.
O’Rourke has gotten his pizza metaphor reversed. Obama’s positive-sum policies produced economic growth while the eurozone’s negative-sum austerity programs caused a recession. Under O’Rourke’s metaphor, it was Obama who made more and bigger pizzas. Had the members of Congress who, like O’Rourke, favor the negative-sum policy of austerity not diminished and warped Obama’s proposed stimulus Obama would have created even more and larger pizzas with better toppings available to a broader group of diners.
I have explained many times why austerity is a terrible response to a Great Recession that decreases already inadequate public and private sector demand, decreases growth (often to the point of producing a new recession or depression), increases unemployment, increases human misery due to cuts in valuable programs, and often increases the budget deficit. I have not expressly made the point that such a lose-lose-lose-lose proposition is a negative-sum strategy. O’Rourke’s austerity policies are far worse than zero-sum. Using his metaphor, the policies O’Rourke favors shrink the number and size of pizza pies and deny them entirely to millions of people. The loss of pizzas in the periphery of the eurozone is so severe that Italy, Greece, and Ireland are losing their best and brightest university graduates to emigration. Negative-sum strategies like austerity are weapons of mass economic destruction.