Issue #260

The problem with Piketty: “Capital” destroys right-wing lies, but there’s one solution it forgets

Author Thomas Frank

Frank

What makes Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” such a triumph is that it seems to have been written specifically to demolish the great economic shibboleths of our time. The stock market is not an instrument of economic democracy, it seems; nor does every natural-born American get a chance to run (which is to say, to loot) a Fortune 500 company. The gap between the billionaires and the rest of us is not really a matter of talent or education, we learn; nor do the rich really deserve every last penny of their winnings. Yet it seems that those winnings, once won, multiply relentlessly as time passes, in a way that far outstrips wages even in the best years. The effect of knowing all these things is a healthy one, like when a fever breaks and all those fanciful explanations for things that we had imagined turn out to have been just a dream. The simplest explanations are in fact the true ones, and we owe Piketty thanks for reminding us of this. However, he also has a serious historical blind spot, and it leads even him to wander into the land of make-believe at times, particularly when he is proposing solutions. This is unfortunate, because in reality the simple remedy for inequality has been staring at us all along. We merely need to sober up and look it in the face. Thomas Frank, Salon, 5-11-14.