BBS Book Thingie: "Capital in the 21st Century" Discussion Week 1 - Introduction


I just moved these first two comments here. Haven’t quite finished the Introduction myself yet, so I’ll be back later today!

BBS Book Discussion Thingie Book II: Reading "Capital in the 21st Century"
Thomas Piketty seminar on Crooked Timber

OK. I’ll be good and wait for the Discussion thread next time.


Aren’t we due another war? And if it reduces inequality…


You can certainly start the Discussion thread on the given day, if you’ve read the chapter and don’t see a new Discussion thread up. Just put in a link to your new thread at the end of the old thread so people know to look for it.

Or you can wait for me to do it. I’ll do it every Friday when it occurs to me to do it, but I’ll always look and make sure some eager beaver hasn’t already started one.


Which wars have reduced inequality?


Apparently, world war ii

Look at figure I.1


Actually, doesn’t Piketty give credit to both the World Wars for reducing inequality?


Don’t worry. The last war will.


That’s the US which entered the first world war in 1917’ and so was not exposed to whatever leveling effect the first world war might have had. Sorry for grabbing the link to the french version, my finger slipped.


Well, according to Piketty, the first World War apparently had a leveling effect in Europe. As per the second graph:

(Capital/income ratio, not explicitly income inequality, but these two are linked.)


It’s only the introduction; but I’m hoping he distinguishes lessoning inequality with “wealth destruction” to use a turn of phrase that sounds like a conservative bugbear,


Damn it, now I’m going to have to spend a perfectly good Saturday morning going to the library!


The first graph (income inequality) also appears to show some inequality drops correlating to depressions/recessions/stock market crashes, although other than the great depression they don’t seem to last and interrupt the long-term trends at all. They don’t seem noticable in the capital/income graph, but I can’t tell if that’s due to granularity, time delay, or something else. I didn’t notice any mention of it in the introduction, but curious to see if it is mentioned later what conclusions are drawn from it.


On a completely different line of thought…I was glad to see Marx’s ideas brought up, put into a clear framework, and moved past. French intellectuals have a tendency to wax eloquent about Marxism, but my core belief is that the problem in any “ism” is the same: human nature. Poking holes in capitalism while promoting a different “ism” in its place has always been suspect to me. As a result I have high hopes for the rest of the book, seeing that Piketty is able to discuss both the strengths and weaknesses of one of the major "ism"s that is usually put forth as the go-to alternative.


Yeah, I was going to agree with that.

@jerwin, wouldn’t the age of the world wars be an outlier, historically, though?

And @chuckV, what about Greek/Turkish population exchanges? And the partitioning out of land in the Mid East? If Europe was leveled, what about the rest of the world? Wouldn’t the leveling have been a conscious program because of the violence of the wars and other factors? Much of the founding documents of the UN (human rights charter, etc) came out of extreme situations of social inequality (the attempt to eliminate Jews in Europe). Doesn’t that say something about what has to happen before some sort of program of leveling takes place?

What did Mike Davis say about the Golden age of Victoria from the perspective of the rest of the world? That it looked like a funeral pyre?

I think that although we managed some leveling at home and in Europe, how much of that was at the expense of the rest of the world? I wonder if he’s going to get into that?

@chgoliz, I agree about the “isms”. While I agree that Marx had some valuable insights, we should move past him and understand our world from what’s happening today instead of trying to completely shoe horn them into Marx’s views of the 19th century, and I suspect he’d agree.

Does anyone else imagine Ricardio when Ricardo is mentioned, or is it just me?

Here we go, I found a picture of David Ricardio… Totes historically accurate!


Was anyone else struck by the fact that he reiterated, twice I think, that he was not against some inequality and was a supporter of capitalism? He seems like he’s keen to strike a moderate note here. Likewise, he claims the space of a scientists and of using rigorous scientific methods in his analysis? He both wants to address related fields, like sociology, but sort of stand apart from them by claiming scientific methods, it seems. Thoughts on that? Can economics be a “real” science, distinct from the humanities fields?


In the sense that it’s feasible to run experiments to test hypotheses based on economic interventions; analyse the data obtained and evaluate the hypothesis based on analysis of data, then yes. Does anyone actually do that outside of MMOs? If no-one actually does that in the real world then it’s debatable whether economists can lay claim to being truly scientific.

If by “real” you mean a natural science, then no way. No more so than the other social sciences or even medicine are natural sciences.


There’s a reason economics is known as the “dismal science”. When I was in college the theories were still pretty basic, and for someone like me who had actually worked in various industries they were too simplistic to be accurate. Now that they are incorporating game theory, etc., things seem to be moving in a more rigorous and quantifiable direction.


Ummm, I don’t recall doing much more than pointing out what one of Piketty’s graphs showed. Your paragraph is beyond my area of expertise and quite frankly I suspect you of being a shill for Big Question.


Yeah, I noted it, especially the part where he claimed that “social inequalities are not in themselves a problem as long as they are justified.” Having never read the Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen, I don’t know what kind of justification he considers permissible.

On the same page, he refers to “the historic failure of Communism.” I suspect that there’s still some debate about that one, as well.