L'Obvs: "It's time to go beyond capitalism"
September 14, 2019 5:23 AM   Subscribe

Economist Piketty's latest book a 1,200 page tome about abolishing billionaires - "The new book, called 'Capitalism and Ideology', tops 1,200 pages and delves into the political ideologies behind income inequality, while providing radical solutions for reversing the world's wealth disparities." (previously)
His new book focuses on economies outside the West, with references to India and China and analyses of communist, colonial and slave-owning economies, according to Bloomberg. It also explores the ideologies behind inequality, challenging the notion that the growing concentration of wealth in the U.S. and elsewhere represents a natural state of affairs, the publication added.[1]

The solutions suggested by Piketty in his newest doorstopper would upend the current capitalist system, where corporate boards are largely composed of wealthy, well-connected shareholders, and taxes on capital are lower than on income. His proposals, according to The Guardian, include:
  • Half of the seats on company boards should filled by employees.
  • No shareholder should have more than 10% of a company's voting power.
  • Taxes as high as 90% on the wealthiest estates.
  • A lump-sum investment of $132,000 provided to everyone when they turn 25 years old.
  • A personalized carbon tax that would be based on an individual's contribution to climate change.
some 'wealth creator' critiques :P also btw!
posted by kliuless (45 comments total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
 


Thank god people are actually working on solutions. This is the best way forward I’ve seen. Thanks for the links to actual hope!
posted by EinAtlanta at 5:51 AM on September 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


soundtrack for the thread
posted by flabdablet at 6:24 AM on September 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


The Torygraph:
In Piketty’s world, there is no place for new ideas, or new ways of doing business, and probably not even many new products or companies, just bureaucrats shuffling money from one person to another as the whole world gets poorer and poorer.

...

The trouble is, his analysis is wrong, and his solutions would make everyone worse off. His return will make him more dangerous than ever.
Well, that's Piketty told. Can't argue with that kind of solid, objective, unbiased, non-ideological, well-reasoned, strictly fact-based common sense.
posted by flabdablet at 6:37 AM on September 14, 2019 [18 favorites]


Wow, I hadn't heard this was coming out at all, thank you.
posted by PMdixon at 6:40 AM on September 14, 2019


People who say the economy isn’t a zero-sum game are trying to sell you something, as only on the margins do their arguments work.

Much of the economy — the wages we negotiate (or don’t’), the prices we pay for necessities, and the housing payment we make every month to the landlord or mortgage servicer are all zero-sum.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 6:41 AM on September 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


I‘m afraid if revolution requires me to read through 1200 pages of Piketty, it won‘t happen. Still stuck in the first third of his first book.
(Could it be a plot of the bourgeoisie?)
posted by The Toad at 6:52 AM on September 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


soundtrack for the thread
posted by Mister Bijou at 6:52 AM on September 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


It is out in French, as I understand it, but not yet in English. We already pre-ordered a (French) copy here in the Netherlands which I hope to get my hands on this week.

I‘m afraid if revolution requires me to read through 1200 pages of Piketty, it won‘t happen.

Others will distill it. But he needs to provide the grounding that is absolutely necessary as billionaires and corrupt governments deploy their arsenal of weapons to try and argue how naive or misguided these ideas are. This book is a weapon. The battles are coming and it is up to us to arm ourselves and fight the good fight.
posted by vacapinta at 6:56 AM on September 14, 2019 [26 favorites]


The battles are coming and it is up to us to arm ourselves and fight the good fight.


Agreed! I prefer Marx myself - just can’t get through Piketty for some reason - but we definitely need all the good analysis we can get.
posted by The Toad at 7:04 AM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


soundtrack for the thread
posted by flabdablet at 7:12 AM on September 14, 2019


So is the 90% "tax on estates" what we Americans call an "estate tax"--ie, an inheritance tax? Or is it a wealth tax? It wasn't clear to me.

If it's an inheritance tax that list really doesn't look that radical. It gets us back to 1970 or so. If it's on sitting wealth . . . . well, in Capital he was floating around a number like 2 or 3%, and that was viewed as outside mainstream discussion already.
posted by mark k at 7:16 AM on September 14, 2019


If it's an inheritance tax that list really doesn't look that radical. It gets us back to 1970 or so.

Well, since there are many tax jurisdictions besides the US, some of which AFAICT have never had an inheritance tax, and that one of the key factors Piketty calls out in allowing Capital to perpetuate itself is arbitrage across tax jurisdictions, I'm going to suggest that you are incorrect as to how radical a 90% inheritance tax with minimal exceptions across even just the OECD would be.
posted by PMdixon at 7:23 AM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


my soundtrack for the thread. This one helps me concentrate when I'm reading...
posted by DreamerFi at 7:24 AM on September 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


So is the 90% "tax on estates" what we Americans call an "estate tax"--ie, an inheritance tax? Or is it a wealth tax?

Why not both?
posted by Slinga at 7:35 AM on September 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


Apparently the Cargill family are all billionaire owners of the wealthiest 100% privately owned company in the US and are so secretive there are no photos of most of them. Did you know Cargill makes a lot of its money in slaughter?

I’m not sure tax is going to be enough.

But! A good start nonetheless.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:48 AM on September 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


So is the 90% "tax on estates" what we Americans call an "estate tax"--ie, an inheritance tax? Or is it a wealth tax?

As I've long said, "If your kids aren't worthless, they'll earn their own fortunes."
posted by mikelieman at 7:59 AM on September 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


The power of Piketty's first book is he backed it up with extensive amounts of data and research. He's got the most complete picture of personal wealth any economist has ever collected. You might argue about how societies should be, but there was no arguing with Piketty's reporting on how societies have been.

This new book sounds more like a polemic without the data part. I wonder if it's a very different kind of thing. OTOH the linked review promises "analyses of communist, colonial and slave-owning economies", so that sounds interesting.
posted by Nelson at 8:00 AM on September 14, 2019


What a lot of people don't realize is that even with taxing the rich 90% and a steep inheritance tax, the rich will still be rich. Their lifestyle choices probably wouldn't be impacted at all. They just wouldn't have extra hundreds of millions to throw at whatever. At a certain point, you just can't buy a bigger mansion, pool, car, etc.
posted by xammerboy at 8:27 AM on September 14, 2019 [8 favorites]


So is the 90% "tax on estates" what we Americans call an "estate tax"--ie, an inheritance tax?

IIRC yes. Substantively, the parts of Capital in the 21st Centurythat are not purely about data (or frankly tedious and repetitive discussions of 19th century literature) are about how inheritance magnifies and perpetuates inequalities in wealth (and income from wealth). The whole r > g discussion is about how the real return on capital grows faster than the real wage so that there's no other economic force that would naturalize earnings over time.

From the POV of orthodox academic economics: Piketty (and his coauthors - Saez, Zucman, and others) have done really excellent data work and that data work was very persuasive. The policy and broad-strokes-theory contributions have been less persuasive within academia (although people have picked up the ball and made more substantive arguments exploring whether, say, r > g is necessary or sufficient for the data to look the way it does, etc) and occasionally he makes claims that aren't correct (probably because he is making simplifying assumptions for exposition purposes but then takes those assumptions too far). Charles Jones wrote a nice little article for the Journal of Economic Perspectives a few years back that formalizes and discuss some of this.

But I think Piketty is more interested in doing "big ideas" kind of work these days than the data stuff or formal theory (and there's some imo misleading digs at theorists in Capital in the 21st Century) and I'm worried that's kind of a dead end. At the same time, academics aren't his audience for this stuff. Intellectually, I dislike making misleading arguments for policies I agree with but Piketty doesn't have to write for me.
posted by dismas at 8:28 AM on September 14, 2019 [9 favorites]


A few more links that may be interesting to people in this conversation. Here's the Harvard University Press page for the forthcoming English translation of Piketty's book. And here's a review of it by the economist Branko Milanović, who is best known among non-expert readers like me for the "elephant chart" of global gains in per capita income in the twenty years leading up to 2008.
posted by a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich at 9:18 AM on September 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


Apparently the Cargill family are all billionaire owners of the wealthiest 100% privately owned company in the US and are so secretive there are no photos of most of them. Did you know Cargill makes a lot of its money in slaughter?

Ahh, the Cargills, the Milo Minderbinders of industrialist-capitalists.
posted by Chitownfats at 9:29 AM on September 14, 2019 [1 favorite]


It’s not the 1%’s spending that is the issue, rather, it’s their investments. cough

For all their fancy theorizing, economists of all stripes do a piss-poor job of modeling the real-world economy, where the money comes from, and where it ends up at the end of the month.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 9:32 AM on September 14, 2019


Well, since there are many tax jurisdictions besides the US, some of which AFAICT have never had an inheritance tax, and that one of the key factors Piketty calls out in allowing Capital to perpetuate itself is arbitrage across tax jurisdictions

This is one of the biggest problems perpetuating global inequality, and cannot be solved as long as tax havens like Panama, Malta, Isle of Mann, hell even Ireland, are allowed to assist the global oligarch class in avoiding taxation and transparency across all national jurisdictions. The only way to seriously address inequality in any country is to take steps to cut off those rogue actors from the rest of the international banking system unless they crack down on avoidance and laundering.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:35 AM on September 14, 2019 [5 favorites]


The only way to seriously address inequality in any country is to take steps to cut off those rogue actors

Definitely yes -- but one thing I've noticed is that various groups seem to have quite different ideas about who exactly is a rogue actor. I suspect (absolutely cannot prove) that this boils down to geopolitical games among the hyperrich. So *my* tax sheltering jurisdiction is perhaps a bit over-eager but ultimately good folks, while *your* tax sheltering jurisdiction funds terrorism and murders babies every Wednesday.

...and, frankly, if the EU can't manage to crack down on tax shelter jurisdictions that are within their own borders, I'm a bit skeptical that anybody is actually going to do anything of substance at all. So far all I see are hands being waved, the occasional loud cough, and a furrowed brow or two.
posted by aramaic at 9:44 AM on September 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


even with taxing the rich 90% and a steep inheritance tax, the rich will still be rich

No, no, you don't understand! We can't take any of their moneys off them or they will stop being innovative and entrepreneurial, just like the poors*!

*except of course for all those Self-Made Men who clearly started off as poors because their fathers had strange foreigner names. But they don't count, except when they do.
posted by flabdablet at 9:48 AM on September 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


call me old-fashioned, but: soundtrack for this thread.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 10:03 AM on September 14, 2019 [8 favorites]


+1 for the title of this post.
posted by chavenet at 10:05 AM on September 14, 2019


Apparently the Cargill family are all billionaire owners of the wealthiest 100% privately owned company in the US and are so secretive there are no photos of most of them

Sounds like somebody carefully read the rules for how the Death Note works.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 10:53 AM on September 14, 2019 [6 favorites]


I'm just here for the uneasy sensation of agreeing with someone without having read his books.
posted by klanawa at 11:22 AM on September 14, 2019 [12 favorites]


His first book sounds interesting but I’m worried it would be just way too intense or academic for me to grasp. And by the time I finished it, I’d likely be close to not being a part of any economy anymore ...

Are his books readable by regular folks or intended to be for people with backgrounds in this kind of stuff?
posted by affectionateborg at 11:45 AM on September 14, 2019


I consider myself pretty well educated and have made my way through some pretty difficult books. That said, I only got about a third through Capital. (I should really try again, though.) But, I would say that the introduction of the book gives a pretty complete overview of what he's saying, and in fairly layperson terms. Frankly, the introduction is worth the price of admission.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:05 PM on September 14, 2019 [4 favorites]


>cannot be solved as long

Land value taxes, severance taxes on natural resource extraction, taxes on EM spectrum rights — none of these exactions can be avoided

Not sure how many trillions could be raised, but...
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 1:55 PM on September 14, 2019


His books and popular articles are all readable, but tend towards redundancy and repetition. His slide deck here on income and education as they relate to ideology over the post-war period is a good example. Way too many redundant slides to make the basic point that, in the UK, France, and the US, it used to be that the left was the party of lower income and lower education and vice versa for the right, but in all three, income and education have diverged, with the left becoming the party of higher education and the right the party of higher income, even though of course income and education are themselves highly correlated. It's an interesting result (though very familiar to anyone conversant in basic political science), especially the question of whether this is a long-term equilibrium or we're just in the midst of a complete realignment where the left will soon be the party of both high education and high income; as Kevin Drum points out based on a key slide in Piketty's deck, in 2016 both in fact did align much more, but that may be just a Trump effect. But in any case, 84 slides is way more than necessary to make and empirically support the point!
posted by chortly at 2:05 PM on September 14, 2019 [3 favorites]


Influential Thomas Piketty is back - and more dangerous than ever

The man makes the right enemies.

I found Capital quite readable, and I don't think he needs to apologize for the length. When you want to upset conventional wisdom, you need a tome. If it's too small, people will dismiss it as not having enough data or not answering every possible objection.
posted by zompist at 4:17 PM on September 14, 2019 [7 favorites]


it is the second most readable book titled “capital” that i have ever read; however, piketty is much, much, much better at math1 than the guy who wrote the most readable book titled capital that i have ever read. and although his philosophical background isn’t as sound he’s working with much more recent data.

1: i mean bless his heart marx tried at the math stuff, he really did. there’s a bit in the grundrisse where he spends like 20 pages laboriously figuring out how to add fractions. and, like, he got there. eventually. he figured out how to add fractions correctly and you have to give the man credit for that. but really engels should have just sponsored a mathematician to assist his buddy karl with the numbers stuff.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 4:29 PM on September 14, 2019 [10 favorites]


Are his books readable by regular folks or intended to be for people with backgrounds in this kind of stuff?

They are readable for some values of readable but aren't really intended for lay people I think.

It was the least read bestseller of the year it came out--someone went through amazon notations for the top books and noted where they petered out. People stopped reading it fairly early.

My opinion was: The first quarter of Capital outlines the argument and is good for everyone. The long middle goes through a lot of data to basically say "inequality has increased since the '50s." I mean there's more to it than that but I think the "more" is mostly of interest to economists with dogs in the fight. The last third or so gets to policy proposals and is interesting again.

I think it's quite possible to read the first and last bits, just scanning the charts in the middle, and get a good bit out of it.
posted by mark k at 4:58 PM on September 14, 2019 [2 favorites]


So from this lovely post a few back, I found the Architectural Digest YouTube channel, which in turn contains a section called On the Market, which profiles multi-million dollar homes for sale across the country, and in which, tonight, I believe I've found the dividing line between "money well spent" and "eat the rich".

Money well spent would include
- $13mil for a 12-acre private island an hour of NYC that contains old-growth forest and an 8,000ft2 house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. I mean, look at that thing. If you develop some life-changing medicine, if you cure polio, if you invent the curly tips on airplanes that save a bunch of fuel, or something like that, you should get to live there. And $13mil? I dunno. It's a lot of f**kin money, but it's not, like, obscene.
- $10mil for this penthouse with 3 gardens and an outdoor shower in Manhattan. Just look at the thing! It's genius! Zone me for another 2 floors and I'll do that to my own house right now!

When the revolution comes you are first against the wall would include
- This $88mil monstrosity in Bel-Air with a glass-enclosed car elevator "so you can decide what car you're driving today" and "a 30-foot fire wall on the balcony to frame your view" and it goes downhill from there.
- This vile $75mil...thing on Lake Tahoe that looks like Sharper Image got a lake house and fell in love with hunting. Glass-enclosed tram cars to the beach house down the cliff a little ffs. Hired a local artist to carve a tree out front for 3 years, and it's not okay.

The first two are...ok. I see that. I see where the money went. They did awesome things with it. The last two are...well, that's what happens when you don't tax the obscenely rich at 90%. While children starve and the planet burns, that.
posted by saysthis at 6:21 PM on September 14, 2019 [14 favorites]


I don't really see a substantive difference in quality/ostentation/amenities offered between those 4 homes.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 5:23 AM on September 15, 2019 [4 favorites]


Piketty is readable enough if you just skip all the math and accept it says what he says it does, relying on other critics for quantitative counterpoint.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:37 AM on September 15, 2019


Thank you for the Milanovich review link, a certain Sysoi Pafnut'evich. His global inequality book is useful and very readable.
posted by doctornemo at 7:57 AM on September 15, 2019 [1 favorite]


I actually enjoyed Piketty's Capital. It's rare to find someone who can simultaneously wrangle giant heaps of data while speaking clearly about it, and adding some literary examples to boot.

Looking forward to the new one.
posted by doctornemo at 7:58 AM on September 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


> Land value taxes, severance taxes on natural resource extraction, taxes on EM spectrum rights — none of these exactions can be avoided

i mean they can be avoided the way they’re currently avoided: by buying control over nominally democratic elected governments while propagandizing the populace into believing that property rights absolutism is compatible with freedom/the essence of freedom.

which is why i argue that the more realistic approach is to seize control of privately owned land and of productive capital, then redistribute that to the populace as a whole, either through direct transfer to local non-state workers’ organizations or else through assigning all productive property being placed under the control of an overarching workers’ state, with local workers’ councils democratically electing the people who manage this state.

i’m not an extremist about this sort of thing and i think there’s room for debate on how to do it — as a moderate, i believe that both the socialists and the anarchists have good ideas — but we must all agree that the seizure of capital by whatever means is a necessary if not sufficient first step.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:16 PM on September 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


call me old-fashioned, but: soundtrack for this thread .
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon


This link, for L'Internationale, started off for me with a ad from the Epoch Times (previously) scaremongering about the dangers of Millennials who want socialism. Christ, what assholes.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 4:31 PM on September 15, 2019 [3 favorites]


that’s why you gotta block all the ads
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 5:48 PM on September 15, 2019 [2 favorites]


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