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Redistributive Politics and Zero-Sum Assumptions

The inimitable P.J. O'Rourke had one of his usual funny yet thought-provoking opinion pieces in Friday's Wall Street Journal advising the President that "zero-sum doesn't add up." He also asks, "Is life like a pizza, where if some people have too many slices, other people have to eat the pizza box?"

The entire op-ed is worth reading, but the morsel for me were these two paragraphs:

"While redistribution—or "plagiarism," as we writers call it—is a bad idea, zero-sum is even worse. Zero-sum assumptions mean that a country that doesn't pursue a policy of taking things from other countries is letting its citizens down. That's pretty much the story of all recorded history, none of which needs to be repeated. It has taken mankind millennia to learn that trade is more profitable than pillage. And we don't have to carry our plunder home in sacks and saddlebags when we're willing to accept a certified check.

"The Chinese don't seem to understand this yet. They think trade is a one-way enterprise, the object of which is for China to have all the world's money. They've got most of ours already. Mr. President, validating China's economic notions isn't a good thing."

O'Rourke closes by writing, "When you embrace a belief in the zero-sum nature of what's under the Christmas tree and propose to redistribute everything that's in our Christmas stockings, you're asking the world to go sit on the Grinch's lap instead of Santa's."


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