Mission Civilisatrice: Piketty et Houellebecq

November 7, 2015 12:00 am Published by Leave your thoughts

We have so much to learn from the French. If only we could understand what they are saying half the time. When will Europe learn? God speaks only English…

Scholarly tradition dictates that each commentator must display a clear CV. In the worlds of economics and political economy, I have no qualifications whatsoever. My knowledge of economics is based on a self taught Advanced Level. I bought Samuelson’s Economics in 1967, read it and paid the few shillings needed to enter the examination which I passed with a face saving grade. My other qualification relates to Thatcher’s homespun household budget management. It worked. I am a senior citizen (not by virtue of wisdom but rather because I am now designated as a ‘geriatric’ entitled to a small pension and a bus pass). As a senior citizen, I owe no money to anyone, I never use credit cards and I never buy that which I have not set out to buy in the first place or that which I cannot afford. I would respectfully submit that I am better qualified than most of our financiers, bankers or politicians to be put in charge of managing our national wealth.

Finally, as a passionate lover of literature, I have read widely on political economy and related fields. Marx, Smith, Malthus, Lenin, Samuelson (of course), Keynes… and many others. I take great pride in having, in mid Samuelson, accurately forecast the devaluation of the pound, rightly worked out the fact that “the pound in your pocket” today was not worth anything like the pound in your pocket yesterday, anticipated the 2008 economic collapse based on the simple edict learnt on the knee of Mr Micawber so long ago, that no one, not even the big banks, could sustain the Blair and Brown induced spend, spend, spend bubble of the most irresponsible Government this country has seen – although our current Government is working very hard to trump Blair – “The Master” as he is referred to by Prime Minister Cameron.

Somehow, today, Piketty coalesces a great deal of previous lifetime readings. My elementary understanding felt as if it had reached a point of comforting synchronicity. If you find political economy as “horrid” as Wilde’s Cecily does, then feel free to skip the next paragraph and go on to the one after it.

Our much vaunted market economy is based largely on private property. On the plus side, we have forces of convergence such as the diffusion of knowledge and skills. On the negative side, we have forces of divergence. Consequently, we live with a threat to democratic societies and to the values of social justice. So, we are now reasonably well educated (are we?) but the impact of divergence must be a divergence in wealth distribution (r>g, 4-5%>1-1.5%). To resolve this dichotomy, Piketty suggests a progressive small tax on capital (as long as it is not my non-existent capital, of course). I would like to take this further and suggest a flat rate tax of 10% on all earnings and all profit, without the exceptions of the many loopholes that allow huge corporations to make profits of billions but pay minute amounts of tax or none at all by using an endless array of legal tax avoidance tactics. r > g is a central contradiction of capitalism as are Piketty’s 1st and 2nd Fundamental Laws of Capitalism (r = α/β or β = a/r and β = s/g). There. All is clear now even to economics amateurs like myself. If β = 600 and r = 5%, then r/β = 30% which is typical. Then it follows that β = s/g = 12/2 = 600%, i.e. worth six years of national income. The capital / income ratio leads, according to Piketty, to “artificial and natural inequalities”. Therefore, state intervention (shock horror) becomes at least desirable if not imperative.
Ah! There’s the rub. I baulk at state intervention, benign (Corbyn), self serving (business) or purely greedy (Osborne).
But then, this is an emotional response. It is born of anything but studied logic.

What I have always found confusing is the way that political economists ignore so much else that makes up the sum total of our little lives – beyond property and money. There is more to life than these two – infinitely more.

France’s enfant terrible, Michel Houellebecq, asserts that the battle of ideas has been won by the right and that, consequently, all our efforts serve the economy first and foremost. He goes on to demand that “values” should be introduced: “…la droite libérale avait gagné la bataille des idées, il l’avait parfaitement compris, les jeunes étaient devenus entreprenariaux (sic – ‘entrepreneuriaux’?), et le caractère indépassable de l’économie de marché était à présent unanimement admis… que les élections ne se joueraient pas sur le terrain de l’économie, mais sur celui des valeurs; et que, là aussi, la droite s’apprêtait à gagner la “bataille des idées”, sans même d’ailleurs avoir à combattre.” (Soumission, Paris, 2015). The result, of course, is an Islamic government colluded in / with by French Socialists in order to keep the extreme right Front National out.

I know! I did say that Houellebecq was l’enfant terrible whose job it was to shake us out of our complacency. Of course, he succeeds partly through rational debate and partly through the most shocking misogynistic sexual peccadilloes predicated entirely on satisfying men’s basest instincts. Rather like right wing consumerist hysterical capitalism really! Sex, God, greed, instant gratification, trivial entertainment… If it helps sell, sell, sell then we are happy to use it.

What is missing?

Houellebecq concurs with Bakunin that even if God existed, He has to be disposed of: “Et même si Dieu existait, il faudrait s’en débarrasser…” (Soumission, Paris, 2015). Being humanist is what matters: “…ils étaient humanistes, ils se faisaient une haute idée de la liberté humaine de la dignité humaine…” (Ibid.). In a previous novel, Houellebecq disposes of God and puts all down to chance as well as determinism: “Considérant les évènements présents de notre vie, nous oscillons sans cesse entre la croyance au hasard et l’évidence du déterminisme. Pourtant, lorsqu’il s’agit du passé, nous n’avons plus aucun doute: il nous paraît évident que tout s’est déroulé de la manière dont tout devait, effectivement, se dérouler.” (Les particules élémentaires, Paris, 1998). Sadly, yet again, rampant and sexist male sexuality trumps all: “Mais il faut baiser aussi hein. Il faut partouzer. C’est important…” (Ibid.). Take the sex away and focus on the values within an increasingly decadent capitalist society.

What between Piketty and Houellebecq, our collaborators in the entente cordiale have really sought to corrupt our pure British morality. Thankfully, we have our wonderfully protective Victorian self confessed Christian Prime Minister – whose Alien spaceship awaits on the playing fields of Eton. Our Premier doth protest too much, methinks.

Ah! A plague on both your white cliffs. Yanis Varoufakis (after all, we scholars love all things Greek), is right in suggesting that “the enemy is always within”. Our beloved Thatcher told us that decades ago.

The question is: “Who is the enemy?” It all depends on who you are – or what you are. The enemy could be literally anyone and everyone. To me the real enemy is greed, consumerism, ignorance, anti-intellectualism, trivia, eschewing personal responsibility, indifference to education and the lack of a spiritual dimension, – what I called elsewhere “the fourth dimension”.

Piketty is irrelevant since formulae do not a solution make. Houellebecq is irrelevant because the penis never trumps the brain.
So, let us now re-read our “horrid political economy” with humanity, compassion – sitting side by side with a good scientific calculator.

All these: calculator, compassion and humanity, may be downloaded as renewable Apps. It saves on reading as well as on thinking independently…

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This post was written by Faysal Mikdadi

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