25 April 2014

Rhapsody on Piketty and Capital in the 21st Century

After reading Krugman's piece today and his longer earlier review (in which he calls it "magisterial"), I plonked down a few shekels for Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century. (Kindle edition as the huge buzz for this academic book, of which no doubt only minor sales were anticipated, has resulted in the first print run being totally sold out). 
Apropos, one of Krugman's few criticisms is of Piketty's treatment of "supersalaries" in America as a sort of alternate to the inherited capital wealth that is the main source of distributive inequality in the world (including to a great extent in America too). Which he (Krugman) says is not as definitive as his (Piketty's) more general treatment of the historical roots and pervasive insidiousness of grossly unequal wealth distribution. 
And one of his (Piketty's) more pessimistic prognostications is that we are unlikely to easily be able to enact the kind of progressive taxation, including wealth taxes, that are needed to address this fundamental problem, because it took the "modern thirty years war" in the 20th Century to be able to do it after the Gilded Age. (He calls it the Belle époque and this shows his European vantage). Two observations: 
1. This discounts the importance of the Progressive Movement in early 20th Century America, which preceded WWI and was a largely grass roots movement; 
2. As Paul Ehrlich and others have said (going all the way back to Carter's "moral equivalent of war"), we need a modern economic equivalent of WWII to deal with the economic and ecological crises of this century anyway, so these reforms can be folded right in. 
Activism is the key. Us retired folks; we gotta be ready to march. On. Washington. Over. and over.

Because, as we are now learning from recently published serious academic studies (what we already knew)(all over the wonkier news lately): what ordinary people think and care about makes NO DIFFERENCE at all to policy makers (only what the elite with the big money wants has any influence at all on policy).

Unless we make it clear to them that we will defeat them if they don't act on behalf of our interests.

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