Piketty, The Wall Street Journal, and rational conservatives


Thomas Piketty's book, Capital in the 21st Century, has almost had the effect of a tsunami on economic thinking here in the United States after its translation from French into English washed up on our monoglot shores. In France itself it has been treated as more less just another economics book-- no big deal.

Its impact on the U.S. is due to many factors, not least of which is the fact that our educational system is woefully inadequate by European standards as well as our lower cultural literacy compared to Europe. Piketty's work appears here as a revelation, but to the educated European he is only providing a fuller historical context for what most people already understand.

Marxists, especially, should have been underwhelmed to learn that the capitalist system creates imbalances in wealth with a large pool of poor and exploited workers at one pole and a small group of capitalists hogging the social wealth at the other.

Piketty tells us this system is not sustainable and to prevent the "Marxist Apocalypse" the capitalists have to modify their behavior and moderate the social inequalities their system creates. The thought that capitalism might be replaced is indeed an apocalyptic nightmare for the bourgeoisie but for the working classes it might be more like a Marxist Epiphany come true.

The Wall Street Journal, no friend to the Left, has reviewed Piketty's book ("A Not-So-Radical French Thinker" by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, weekend edition May 24-25, 2014). Here we find, implicitly, that not only have some on the left "lost it" over seeing Peketty as some sort of super progressive, but that many American "conservatives" have, explicitly, also gone completely off the deep end by referring to Piketty as a "soft Marxist."

The conservative movement is the U.S. is, however, overloaded with "thinkers" who are intellectually immature and dishonest, selling their brain power (such as it is) to the Koch brothers, the Murdochs, and their ilk. The WSJ review points out that Piketty is a professional academic economist and his book merits consideration. He is a neo-liberal economist who supports market capitalism and, like many other neo-liberals, he advocates "government redistribution to smooth out some of the market's excesses."

The WSJ points out that in France you can find "honest-to-goodness actual Marxists [that] are still at large" and Piketty is not one of them. The fact that he has simply described how capitalism is actually functioning and this is enough to send so called conservative intellectuals into a nose dive (one from the American Enterprise Institute is especially mentioned) over "soft Marxism"  is evidence enough that many, I think most, conservatives have no regard at all for the facts or even rational discussion but are only mouthpieces for the corporate interests who support them as paid propagandists.

Piketty is worth reading. Marxists have a deeper understanding, I think, about the functioning of the capitalist system so there will be no surprises here, but readers will find a detailed history of wealth distribution and creation over the last 300 years that will convince anyone with an open mind that this system is exploitative and is leading towards an implosion that could very well destroy it.

Marxists, of course, think the system must be replaced and is ultimately existentially unreformable. Neo-liberals such as Piketty do not agree and he proposes reforms in his book which he thinks will save the sinking ship (such as an international, or at least a European Union, wealth tax).

The WSJ review suggests that the right wing could benefit from reading Piketty. If the inequality he describes is not remedied "it could undermine the social order" and "for all the huffing and puffing about Mr. Piketty's supposedly revolutionary ideas, that conservative insight might be his most lasting contribution to the American debate." Indeed, it well might.

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  • Fine article, though I think calling Mr. Piketty a "neoliberal" dismisses the point that the material he amasses and demonstrates to the world is a devastating portrait of the horrible corruptions of capitalism.

    Mr. Piketty is a French social democrat. Can't we just leave it at that, and not use namecalling as an invalidation mechanism? He does not pretty up capialism like the neoliberals do. On the contrary.

    Posted by Dave Cunningham, 06/24/2014 3:23am (1 year ago)

  • I hate to disappoint Mr Case but I have read Piketty's book. I think our differences stem from the fact that I understood it.

    Posted by Thomas Riggins, 06/23/2014 12:58pm (1 year ago)

  • Some short comments are warranted.

    1. In The USA there are also very many honest-to-goodness actual Marxists still at large. You can meet them here on the pages of People's World.

    2. That fact that so many free-market US propagandists, posing as economists, sell their soul is no surprise. The reason these fakes pounce when someone (like Piketty) exposes capitalism's many frauds and contradictions, relates to the power of the "big lie." For example, the right has never tried to defeat Obama by engaging in honest debate. From the beginning it's been a game of attacking the man as a closet Muslim, someone bent on imposing Sharia law and Kenyan Socialism to the USA.

    They don't debate this nonsense factually. They just orchestrate a non-stop smear campaign. It's nothing more than the time-tested right wing strategy of repeating the same lie over and over again to discredit someone. In their world, Piketty must be ignored because, after all, he's a socialist and might even be a commie. Of course it's all baloney, but millions of Americans buy this kind of hoax. It's the way they're programmed by the daily dose of "big lies."

    3. Marxists in the USA must be more bold than ever in making clear who they are and what they believe. They must explain that true socialism tailored to meet the needs of all Americans is our best hope to build a truly just nation that fulfills the promise of true liberty, equality and human dignity.

    4. While pointing out the failures of capitalism that Piketty so easily reveals, we must never forget that his goal was to save capitalism. The goal of American Marxists is to replace it with something better. That's called socialism and we should proudly state that at every opportunity.

    Posted by Bob W. Ryley, 06/20/2014 10:26am (1 year ago)

  • As for Pikettys book Mr Riggins in on point. Many many points of Capitalism exposure.
    I heard Piketty interviewed on WBAI for an hour the other day; I'm not a well read Marxist but I can tell you, I didn't hear much that is new.
    Our Party has been writing about this as long as I can remember. I'm 71 yrs old.
    How about some more socialist programs?

    Posted by Gabe Falsetta , 06/19/2014 6:33pm (1 year ago)

  • This writer has not even read the book, as would be evident to anyone who HAS read the book after the first two paragraphs of this absurd "review".

    Is this the Donald Duck standard of journalism?

    Posted by John Case, 06/19/2014 5:02am (1 year ago)

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