I wouldn’t worry about Piketty’s tone here; he’s just establishing his credentials as a sober realist before going on to use reality to completely wipe the floor with neoliberal fuckwittery.
Fair enough. I do worry that he’s going to go down the line of “things are better in Europe” and disconnect it from events elsewhere.
That’s pretty clear.
I thought a lot of his criticisms of Marx were valid. But I question what I saw as his most serious criticism, that Marx’s Capital was distorted because Marx was trying to justify conclusions he’d already reached in the Manifesto. Perhaps Piketty substantiates this in more detail later – he comments that Marx didn’t make use of all the research resources available to him – but in context, it looks like Piketty is setting up a contrast between his scientific approach and Marx’s partisan approach. And that sounds like the classic fallacy of assuming that moderate views don’t bias the results as much as radical views do.
Hey, whatever… I’m far less concerned about enfeebled Marxists crying bias than dick-swinging capitalists writing it off.
But anyone who looks at the mountains of data Piketty has gathered and presented can see his conclusions pretty much self-evident.
Maybe the question is what is the optimal amount of inequality that both incentivises effort, while still ensuring sufficient wealth distribution that no-one is left completely behind?
The last century has seen the failure of both unfettered communism (it collapsed in the Soviet Union) and unfettered capitalism (current levels of inequality and poverty in the western world), so an economic middle road is probably optimum.
The people who bought the hardback version of capital might find themselves relieved that Piketty isn’t presenting a utopia, that he does not mean to demonize capitalism. and that’s what I think he’s getting at by saying that inequality isn’t all bad.
He mocks meritocracy while assuring the reader that, realistically, a fairer distribution of capital doesn’t mean completely fair, I take it he believes that moving society away from spiraling inequality is more desirable and much more achievable than laying the foundation for true equality.
I don’t find this troubling. Yet.
Sounds reasonable. Some inequality encourages people to strive to do better, which is good. Obscene inequality, in which an obscene amount of strife is necessary just to try to reach the average, maybe not so good.
Wonder if this book will point out the boundaries of acceptable inequality.
IIRC, that one’s left as an exercise for the reader. But anyone with half a brain can see the lower bound is eliminating poverty…
I’ve been thinking about precisely this. Can capitalism eradicate poverty?
I don’t think it can in its current state.
Seems to me like poverty looks like an economic issue but is really a social problem that requires a political solution.
How to achieve it is certainly the domain of economists. Wanting to is the real roadblock.
(I have absolutely no data to back up my claims, it’s merely unsubstantiated opinion)
Will this book suggest otherwise?
Does capitalism aim to?
Doesn’t capitalism require inequality?
Piketty doesn’t advocate ditching capitalism as such, in fact he credits it with creating a great deal of wealth, IIRC.
He hangs epic quantities of shit on his fellow economists for their mindless dogmatic groupthink post Friedman; rather than doing their actual job, they’ve just been unthinking tools of the elite. Naturally, the elite weren’t exactly passive observers in this…
And he points out that the post-war levelling of the playing field wasn’t down to the destruction of wealth but due to many active efforts to achieve greater opportunity for all, which were enabled by the political climate of the time. I can’t recall the reasons he identified for that climate to have come about, though.
That’s the question, though - Is the sort of extreme inequality we’re talking about a feature or merely a bug? I lean towards it being a feature, but some people argue that capitalism just has been deployed properly.
It seems obvious to me that a system based on profit requires heavy regulation and systemic wealth redistribution to be halfway equitable; heavy taxes on extreme wealth and inheritance, for instance.
We’re probably going to have to settle for that before we can get around to replacing money with kudos points or whatever…
Exactly. Also, with greater wealth comes greater responsibility. Capitalism, when corralled by strong regulation to keep human greed in check and an ethical framework, isn’t inherently a bad economic system. Besides, it’s the system we’ve got. We don’t have to throw the baby out with the bathwater: we need to figure out how to best take care of the baby we’ve got.
Are we discussing Chapter 1 or Part 1 (chapters 1 & 2?) next?
Poverty isn’t an absolute state; what poverty means varies historically. It’s a relative status, of being denied what’s socially defined as necessary. You can’t eliminate poverty in a class system, because poverty is the status of being in the lowest class in the hierarchy.
So no, you can’t eliminate poverty within the class system of capitalism.
Yes and no… if we can make ‘poverty’ mean only having the bare necessities (that includes broadband these days), then its definition will have fundamentally altered.
The lowest income deciles of the city I work in have families who live in cold, damp, mould infested housing with no/poor heating; with low income resulting in children being sent to school hungry. As a result of hunger and poor living conditions they experience poor health and poor education outcomes, which help perpetuate the situation for the next generation. Those families would still be relatively poor no matter where or when you place them.
But if we
… then those families wouldn’t be “poor” any more because they don’t starve and do have the bare essentials for life. But it’s not a good life.
As education is an effective way of improving one’s lot in life (by opening up access to better paid careers) couldn’t poverty be better defined as ‘living conditions that negatively impact physical and/or mental health or reduce the ability to access education’?
You can define poverty however you want. What is it you’re actually trying to solve? If you want to assure that there’s class mobility, that’s one thing. If you want to make sure that people aren’t miserable, that’s another. If you’ve got a class system, there’s going to be a lot of people at the bottom, and they’ll be miserable, and all that wonderful “competition” is about struggling against the fear of sliding down.
I think we’re going chapter by chapter, so chapter 1 next…?