BBS Book Thingie: “Capital in the 21st Century” Discussion Week 2 - Income and Output

Picketty, p71:

“…historical experience suggests that the principle mechanism for convergence [between rich and poor] … is the diffusion of knowledge … …the poor catch up to the rich to the extent that they achieve the same level of … education … not by becoming property of the wealthy.”

I do like the cut of your jib, Sir. :smiley:


The latest OECD report seems to be making similar points about wealth inequality too. “In it together”.

Have I somehow broken the BBS Book Thingie, BTW? There’s a lot of echo in here, here, here … here …

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Just make sure to link your new topic to the end of the old thread, and everyone will know to come to the new discussion thread. I went ahead and linked this one for you, since I just realized that it’s Friday. :wink:

I have to read some more to catch up. I’m only a few pages into Chapter One so far. That was a pretty lengthy Introduction, which I only finished on Wednesday. Not the book’s fault, but this has been an uncommonly busy four-day week for me, filled with work sufficient for a six-day one.

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Chapter 1 is shorter than the Introduction, at least. I suspect all of them will be.

I marked some quotes, similar to the one @aeon pulled out. Not sure how to extract them, mind.

Like this, I guess:

The same is true of property in the atmosphere, the sea, mountains, historical monuments, and knowledge. Certain private interests would like to own these things, and sometimes they justify this desire on grounds of efficiency rather than mere self-interest. But there is no guarantee that this desire coincides with the general interest.

Which I thought was an amusing bit of understatement.

Public wealth in most developed countries is currently insignificant (or even negative, where the public debt exceeds public assets)

Not sure why I noted this, perhaps thinking about how much wealth is in private hands?

And then these two:

nearly 20 percent of African capital is owned by foreigners

To sum up, historical experience suggests that the principal mechanism for convergence at the international as well as the domestic level is the diffusion of knowledge. In other words, the poor catch up with the rich to the extent that they achieve the same level of technological know-how, skill, and education, not by becoming the property of the wealthy.

Which was just about how Africa has been and is exploited by the West. Heh. The last one isn’t ‘similar to’, it’s the same quote.


I was most struck by this:

Inequality of capital ownership is already difficult to accept and peacefully maintain within a single national community. Internationally, it is almost impossible to sustain without a colonial type of political domination.

What about colonial domination entirely within a country’s borders, as the various social classes effectively become different nations? Or am I reading/intuiting ahead?

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It’s not just the west. The BRICS countries are a very significant part of the Africa carve-up now. But China (in particular) very much sees itself as an innocent historic victim of western aggression and is unlikely to recognise its own imperialism.


When we start the discussion thread, can you do also a general @ mention to all the regulars… That might help, too.

But here I am now! :wink:

No, that’s spot on, I think. I can think of examples of this historically - Russia in the Soviet Union treated the other members of the USSR as colonies. The north of Yugoslavia treated the southern, Albanian part as a colony. The metropole-periphery model as it’s known works well nationally as it does internationally. It’s a means of extracting resources and setting up markets for those resources. So, we can think of colonialism as a stage of capitalism perhaps? I guess Piketty doesn’t come right out and say that, but I it can be argued he’s implying that it’s a part of the stage of development of a capitalist system?

Thoughts about his use of the term “social construct” starting on 55. He discusses how people historically thought about national accounts and that changed in the interwar period, to become moderating the boom-bust cycle in order to create stability for the most number of people (57). Thoughts on that? He’s certainly arguing the notion that markets are “natural” is BS, which I think is important. If it’s a social construct, you can tinker with markets and make them the most beneficial to human beings, right?

Maybe that plays into his discussion of inequality, neo-colonialism, and how we can deal with that, given hindsight, especially given @ChuckV’s quote and the link about BRICS from @aeon. I thought this was a good quote:

"China takes our primary goods and sells us manufactured ones. This was also the essence of colonialism," Sanusi wrote in a March 11 opinion column in the Financial Times. "Africa must recognize that China - like the U.S., Russia, Britain, Brazil and the rest - is in Africa not for African interests but its own," Sanusi added.

It seems in many ways, little has changed since when Hailie Salassie/Ras Tafari gave his speech to the UN in the 60s… Africa is still being deprived of its resources by exploitative means. How much of this is underpinned by greed and how much by racism?

Also… damnable new bifocals… These are going to take some getting used to.


Similarly (?) I see one potential Labour(!) candidate for London mayor wants London to become a de-facto city state… (I think Boris Johnson has expressed similar opinions in the past).

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But Harrow is nowhere near the City!

I feel your pain:weary:

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China is relatively resource poor but cash rich — it holds about 40% of GDP in foreign currency reserves. Whether “greedy” depends on whether they’re paying appropriately for what they’re taking and making the place better in the process.

You would probably less want to be black in the PRC than black in the USA. Although the odds of being shot by the police are considerably lower in the PRC, so there’s that …

China tolerates white Europeans, because above all the Chinese venerate power and affluence (but whites are exposed to the same kinds of micro-aggressions as POC in majority white countries); and Europe and the USA are seen as successful (and white). Africa not so much. And as the power of the USA’s empire fades …


Yeah, I’ve been studying in China for the past few months and the blacks I have met (who I’ve asked) have reported some racism. However, this is very much a college town and there are enough international students here to make the locals relatively accustomed and therefore relatively tolerant. Probably worse in other parts.

If it’s better in the US, then I would imagine it’s because it’s more possible to have a real established community there, while that’s not going to readily happen in China. There’s a lot to be said for not getting shot though.


So, if we carry your thoughts a step further, if the US is effectively colonizing itself, this provides back-up for the increasingly held belief that the police have become an occupying army.


I take it you’re studying Mandarin? That way you get to notice when someone calls out a warning “大鼻子来了!” when you walk into a store. :wink:

The PRC doesn’t refer to white people as 死鬼佬 (lit. ‘dead ghost fucker’) so much any more. But I’d be pleasantly surprised if your black friends haven’t heard 黑鬼 (black ghost) …

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I haven’t heard things like the above, but that may just be poor listening comprehension skills. :confused:

OK. Attention: @FoolishOwl @Daaksyde @tachin1 @daneel


Catching up on the reading. But thanks for the reminder.

YMMV and who knows, maybe China has learned some manners since we lived there. But when you can tune in to conversation around you, don’t be too surprised if you find you’re often the subject; your appearance, apparent country of origin and job prospects something to be dissected in detail … :laughing:

The other thing that used to follow us around was a chorus of “看! 混血的!” or similar (“Look, a mixed blood”) in reference to our son. Often followed by “好可爱呀!”(Aw, how cute!) and some random patting him on the head. Which —given he was pretty small at the time and the attention freaked him out— was really frustrating.


I’m curious how one would see the U.S. as colonizing itself. It does not seem that it would be geographically in the sense of treating, for example, Montana as a colony. Are you referring to class divide, or corporations vs citizens?

Unrelated to that, one thing I found interesting in Ch.1 was

the capital stock in the developed countries currently consists of two roughly equal shares: residential capital and professional capital. To sum up, each citizen of one of the wealthy countries earned an average of 30,000 euros per year in 2010, owned approximately 180,000 euros of capital, 90,000 in the form of a dwelling and another 90,000 in stocks, bonds, savings, or other investments.

I might’ve missed a clarification, but it sounds as if half the capital is in individually-owned homes (that are not rented out). Given how many people rent or pay mortgage, and how much public, commercial, and other non-residential property there is, I would expect that share to be much lower. But maybe I misunderstood and ‘residential capital’ includes rental and mortgaged properties?