Thomas Piketty does not settle for a crisis of capitalism

Capital and ideology
DEMOCRATIC SOCIALISM / Piketty's latest book is about redistribution and not so much else. There is an awful lot of statistics and some fine literary examples. The hope of green capitalism seems to have completely disappeared.


As most may remember, the French economist bragged Thomas Piketty in 2015 through the intellectual public with the book The Capital of the 21st Century, where he explained in great detail the growing inequality in the world. The book has reportedly been sold in more than 2 million copies, and it managed to put a spell on growing criticism of both economics (such as exact science) and inequality. Piketti's thick book and overwhelming statistical material capturing the spirit of time and gave criticism of neoliberal globalization and savings policy after the financial crisis, if not a direction, then a language. And a credible one of a kind.

Although, of course, Piketty referred to Marx with his title, he was quick to distance himself from the born revolutionary and even coquetted with never having read Capital. Invitations from sclerosis-stricken center-left parties around the world did not wait long, and Piketty not only quickly became a reference for left-wingers, he also served as an adviser to politicians such as James Corbyn in the UK, Elisabeth Warren in the US and Rahul Gandhi in India.

"Compulsory reading for Social Democrats"

Now Piketty has released a new voluminous book, Capital and ideologywho is already triumphing in the various newspapers of the extreme center. In Denmark, former Foreign and Finance Minister Mogens Lykketoft has reviewed the book very positively. It is compulsory reading for Social Democrats, he writes. Also editor of Danish Information Rune Lykkeberg is very enthusiastic and has traveled all the way to Paris to interview the French star economist. Lykkeberg can hardly get his hands down in just enthusiasm about the new manifesto: «Thomas Piketty has a bid for a new socialism, which creates both equality and combats climate change, "states the front of Information over a photograph of Piketty.

Piketty has a difficult lack of capital concept that has little to do with the criticism of the political economy.

If The Capital of the 21st Century mapped out how inequality has exploded since the 1980s in the Western world, Piketty explains in the new book how this development is largely a result of ideological struggles. Therefore, of course, the title of the book. According to Piketty, it is ideas that drive the story forward. Political ideas change the world. One of the book's examples is Sweden, which in 1910 was an extremely unequal society, but today according to Piketty is one of the most equal countries in the world. How did this transformation take place, he asks. It was political struggles that reduced inequality.

Give all citizens 120 000 euros

If inequality is largely a result of politics, then inequality can be reduced. This is Piketty's positive – that's his own description – message with the new book. If we turn the wheels a bit, we can create a more equal society, what Piketty describes in the book as democratic socialism. He has a number of concrete proposals: We must tax wealth and inheritance and give all citizens 120 000 euros when they reach the age of 25. At the same time, we need to invest far more education, as happened in the immediate postwar era in the United States and Western Europe. And then we finally have to give workers access to the board of directors of the companies where they are employed, that is, to extend the representation of employees and give them co-determination – they must have 50 percent of the votes on the board. Piketty calls it participatory socialism.


Piketty's suggestions are sympathetic

And it is obvious why newspaper editors, debaters and politicians alike read his long and certainly well-written reports. Not only does he offer a large-scale historical analysis of inequality, but at the same time he promises to change the system and save it. It doesn't require that much. We can easily remedy the problems if we tax more wealth and inheritance and reduce inequality by introducing a civilian wage, then we can both preserve and change a little on private property and everything that characterizes the capitalist economy. Not surprisingly, Piketty is recognized and positively reviewed in both Libération like the Financial Times – Across the outdated left-right divide, Piketty is popular.

It is about redistribution and not so much else, and about how we make inequality a political issue. It is Piketti's merit that he makes visible the exploding inequality in detail. He did that in the previous book, and he does that in the new one. Not that he is the first to do so. The Alter Globalization Movement and attack pointed to it as early as the mid-1990s, and the mobilization of the space occupation movements in 2011 was largely based on the wild inequality between ordinary wage-workers and directors and shareholders, and the acquiring of the banks after the financial bubble burst in 2007-2008. However, unlike the anti-systemic movements, Piketty has only an intra-systemic analysis of inequality. Of course, this is why his books are received with such open arms among political commentators and politicians. They can see the system preservation in the proposals and get excited.

Abstract domination

As many already pointed out then The Capital of the 21st Century went his victory over the world, then Piketty has a very flawed concept of capital that has little to do with the criticism of the political economy. For Piketty, capital is really just wealth and wealth that someone owns and can sell. For Marx, capital was a mode of production and a social relationship. Piketty's limited understanding of capital means that he cannot see the abstract dominance of capital, but is staring blindly at income disparities in a number of national economies across time. It is a very well-played analysis that Piketty is in. There is an awful lot of statistics, some fine literary examples. And in the new book, which Piketty calls, ideology, which we are usually more aptly talking about as politics, since ideology is precisely not conscious acts but the imaginary relation of individuals to their real conditions of existence.

But that's it

A lot of statistics and a limited idea of ​​politics. Limited because Piketty subscribes fully to the political forms of Euro-modernism such as national democracy, party form and state. This is where politics takes place. There is no class struggle or insurgency. They act only insofar as they are translated into the already established political-economic system.

Lykkeberg can hardly get his hands down in just enthusiasm about the new manifesto.

Piketty has an ahistorical understanding of capital and cannot see the abstract dominance of capital, and therefore he has no concept of proletization and exploitation, but imagines that we can solve society's problems by managing society a little better, taxing a little more and giving the workers access to the boardrooms. As if it is possible to correct the underdevelopment of capital through tax policy and investment in education. The plan is to manage the (under) development of capital better and less unequally. These are long overdue gestures that were only possible when the national working classes in the West were strong (and forgot about any international solidarity). The model is the post-war welfare or planning state.

Democratic despotism

Although Piketty in the new book also includes non-Western economies and writes about slavery and wealth, he does not have much to say about international division of labor and imperialism. And he chooses to highlight post-war Western consumer societies, where workers racialized as whites gained the right to vote in national democracies, gained more in wages and access to consumption, education and cultural offerings to abandon any remnant of solidarity with the condemned on earth: That's the ideal for Piketty. WEB #DuBois called this model «democratic despotism».

Piketty does not deal with a crisis of capitalism. He is a symptom of it, in a form of exchange that, with one hand, gives political freedom to Trump, Bolsonaro and other late fascists, and with the other welcomes Piketti's proposal – on reforms of national accumulation. We are confronted with a capitalist class that seems rarely groggy and as desperately looking for ways out: fascism as a crisis solution or racist welfare as in the post-war era. The hope of green capitalism seems to have completely disappeared. Everything is better than giving in to the protesting masses who want a different world and are fighting for the upliftment of the economy and state as it is today.

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