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 or less just another economics book– no big deal.
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 behaviour 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 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 mouth pieces 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 three hundred 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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This post was written by Thomas Riggins