PJ O'Rourke wrote a thought provoking WSJ editorial on zero-sum economics, but he is not the first to bring up the issue of zero-sum macroeconomic behavior. One of the best-sellers in economics during the early 1980's was Lester Thurow's Zero-Sum Society.
This is a recurring theme when growth slows. If there is no increase in the economic pie, there will have to be discussion on how to take some of the economic share of another group. Growth theory has always been one of the difficult modeling issues of economics. Growth is often driven by innovation but the factors that will drive innovation are often not clear. Hence, a slow growth period will bring out the doom-sayers because they cannot see a path to higher growth. Consequently we then focus on the zero-sum argument. If the president believes there are limited growth opportunities, there will more focus on redistribution of wealth. Growth will not be a viable solution. It belays a lack of optimism on future economic prospects that effort will be rewarded with economic expansion. This is consistent with the Fed view of limited growth. An Age of Pessimism could be upon us. This is similar to the early 1980's, yet the markets were surprised by the faster growth of the post 1982 period.