P.J. O’Rourke writing in yesterday’s WSJ on the fallacy and evil of “zero sum thinking”:
Mr. President, the worst thing that you’ve done is that you sent a message to America in your re-election campaign 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.
In this zero-sum universe there is only so much happiness. The idea is that if we wipe the smile off the faces of people with prosperous businesses and successful careers, that will make the rest of us grin.
There is only so much money. The people who have money are hogging it. The way for the rest of us to get money is to turn the hogs into bacon.
The evil of zero-sum thinking and redistributive politics has nothing to do with which things are taken or to whom those things are given or what the sum of zero things is supposed to be. The evil lies in denying people the right, the means, and, indeed, the duty to make more things.
Or maybe you just find it easier to pursue a political policy of sneaking in America’s back door, swiping a laptop, going around to the front door, ringing the bell, and announcing, “Free computer equipment for all school children!”
From a Marketplace interview with P.J. O’Rourke last year:
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.