Picketty vs politics: where does the rate of profit come from?


It’s a very interesting point, and it gets to the heart of the fundamental incompatibility of capitalism and democracy.

The basic principle of democracy is that any power that one person has over another is illegitimate unless it has been conferred democratically, through elections where one person has one vote.

And we live in a world where money equals power. Where one dollar equals one vote on what is produced, what is consumed, who gets to eat, who gets shelter, and who gets to have their voice heard. When it comes to these decisions, about the everyday detail of our lives, some of us have many more votes than others.


I’ve come across other articles that have said similar things – and I think this is the key critique of Picketty, the one that will really stick. He’s certainly correct that inequality is the inevitable outcome in a capitalist system. But in the last analysis it’s not about “laws” of economics but about segments of the population – classes – taking political action against other classes. (The recent brouhaha over the FCC and net neutrality is a perfect example. The cable companies aren’t “letting the market decide” about net neutrality – they are taking forceful, pro-active political action to boost their monopoly power.)


I agree entirely, except I don’t think that will be the critique that will stick. Instead it will be some variant of “he got his numbers wrong” that the Financial Times first wrote, even though they willfully misrepresented Piketty’s data. And back we will go to “letting the market decide”.

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