by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Pro-capitalist humorists are nearly extinct, assuming there ever was a time when they flourished. A shining exception is P.J. O’Rourke. This anthology of his articles and essays runs the gamut of his irreverent career, stretching across 16 books dating back to the 1980s.
O’Rourke is today an elder libertarian luminary, and, fittingly, the H.L. Mencken Research Fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. Proponents of self-responsibility and capitalist profit have never lacked articulate spokesmen, but there has been a dearth of raconteurs you’d want to go drinking with.
O’Rourke is in this capacity singularly equipped to bridge the worlds of fun and limited government.
The apex of this collection is O’Rourke’s seminal work on the American government, Parliament of Whores, which is simultaneously scathing and hilarious. “Enormous effort and elaborate planning are required to waste this much money,” he observes—no doubt because “giving money and power to government is like giving whiskey and car keys to teenage boys.” I stumbled onto this gem of wit and analysis while a moderate centrist. I found it so mirthful, so withering, and so thorough that before I finished the chapter on U.S. agricultural policy I became a libertarian.
Students new to economics can save time by skipping Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations and reading O’Rourke’s summary of this magnum opus. You can probably even claim you read the original in class. Not only does O’Rourke contextualize Smith’s book and apply it to contemporary policy, he also corrects the Scot’s errant belief in the labor theory of value, as well as other economic fallacies.