Noted wisenheimer O’Rourke (How the Hell Did This Happen? The Election of 2016, 2017, etc.) serves up a fan’s notes on “a blood sport that I greatly enjoy”—namely, the dismal science of economics.
Though a conservative on numerous mastheads and TV credits since the heyday of National Lampoon, the author isn’t reflexive in his cheerleading for capitalism; after all, he notes, it was capitalists who “hoovered my investment portfolio in the 2008 financial crisis.” Still, this is a mostly pro–free-market, conservative look at a complex subject that O’Rourke sometimes reduces to useful fundamentals—and that sometimes floats away on clouds of dumb abstraction. As to the former, the author points to the thought that the first thing a financial analyst needs to do is figure out how a company he or she is thinking of investing in makes money. In the instance of Enron, one mogul’s staff reported back that they were “utterly ignorant” even after studying the company up close for a month—a lesson, O’Rourke suggests, in the virtues of ignorance, or at least not proceeding until one is less ignorant than at the start. Where things get interesting is when the author turns subtly critical in the matter of corporations. As he notes, things got sticky in the financial realm when the banks sold themselves out to “clueless stockholders,” since the banks could then be comfortably managed by people who were clueless themselves. Of course, the whole business of corporate personhood is sticky. As for fundamentals, the author scores points with a sharp observation: The rise of credit cards suggests that the idea that goods and services seem sort of free if you don’t have to pay straightaway yields a topsy-turvy financial world, one whose craziness can logically be resolved only with the use of a “9mm Glock—VISA card of the future.”
As with most of O’Rourke’s books, a mix of the smart and the throwaway but fairly entertaining throughout.