Share on Google Plus Share on Twitter Share on Facebook Share on LinkedIn Share on PInterest Share on Fark! Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon Tell A Friend 1 (1 Shares)  

Printer Friendly Page Save As Favorite View Favorites (# of views)   2 comments, In Series: Capital in the Twenty-First Century
OpEdNews Op Eds

Piketty for Progressives -- Part 5

By       Message Thomas Riggins     Permalink

Related Topic(s): ; , Add Tags Add to My Group(s)

Interesting 1  
View Ratings | Rate It

opednews.com Headlined to H4 11/21/14

- Advertisement -
Thomas Riggins

- Advertisement -
This posting will cover sections 11 and 12 in Piketty's introduction to Capital in the 21st Century.

11. The Fundamental Force for Divergence: r > g

- Advertisement -
This formula, r is greater than g, where r is the average annual rate of return on capital and g is the rate of annual economic growth "sums up the over all logic" of Piketty's arguments regarding growing inequality under capitalism.

Piketty thinks the outlook for the 21st century is that r will be much greater than g and this means that inherited wealth will be greater than output or income. Under the rule of r > g it follows that people with wealth need save only a small fraction of their income and it will accumulate faster than the economy does thus increasing inequality. A real possibility exists that the increase in inequality will undermine the principles upon which bourgeois democracy is based. Billionaires, for example, could be able to sink so much money into elections and lobbying that they will basically control the electoral process and the government and people's democratic rights will honored in name only if at all.

Piketty thinks that this scenario is a real possibility but it is not inevitable. Besides this powerful D-force there are also C-forces at work that could delay or even completely counteract it. He thinks, however, that the decrease of g in the coming decades is very likely.

His view is, he says, less "apocalyptic" than Marx's view. But I think he mischaracterizes Marx's outlook. He says Marx has a principle of "infinite accumulation and perpetual divergence" because he thinks g will be 0 due to 0 growth in productivity. Because of this there will be a revolution to overthrow capitalism (the Apocalypse). But this isn't Marx's view at all. His view, somewhat simplified, is that capitalism will eventually run out of markets due to a crisis of over production and will breakdown because it won't have the profits needed to sustain itself.
- Advertisement -

Piketty says his theory of r > g has nothing to do with any "Imperfections" in the market. It is not inevitable but is a likely occurrence and we should be aware of it. He stresses that the "more perfect" the capital market the more likely is r > g. Does this imply that the "better" the capitalist system is the more inequality it will create? This would make it incompatible with any kind of democracy and logically implies that some sort of fascist anti-democratic state is its natural outcome.

Piketty thinks the capitalist state will have to intervene and manipulate the outcome of the "more perfect" capitalist market to counteract the negative effects of r > g. He suggests "a progressive global tax on capital." He doesn't think this will be a real world solution to the problem and whatever the different nation states end up doing will be "less effective." Does this mean that, after all, in the real world r > g is actually unstoppable? Is the Apocalypse destined to be our fate?

12. The Geographical and Historical Boundaries of Piketty's Study

The upshot of this section is, that while Piketty will use information from many areas of the world to bolster and develop his views, he will rely "primarily on the historical experience of the leading historical countries: the United States, Japan, Germany, France, and Great Britain."

He thinks the UK and France are particularly important because they have the best economic records kept from the 19th century and they were the leading countries of the "first globalization" (1870-1914) of international trade and finance. This, by the way was the period analyzed by Lenin in his Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism. This first globalization was, Piketty says, "prodigiously inegalitarian."

Piketty notes that the "first globalization," is "in many ways similar" to the second one which has been going on "since the 1970s." It is so similar that Lenin's book on Imperialism is still largely relevant for understanding it. One of the weaknesses of Piketty's book is that neither "Lenin" nor "Imperialism" appear in its index -- a strange omission in a work trying to explain the origins of, and remedies for, inequality.

One of the similarities Piketty notes is the fact it was not until beginning of the 21st century that the leading imperialist countries attained the level of stock market capitalization vis a vis GDP as the UK and France had at the beginning of the 20th century.

He next explains why he spends so much time on France. The first reason is that it has records going all the way back to the late 1700's. The second reason is he thinks France is more typical than the US and its future will more likely be what most states will experience rather than that of the US. This is because the US population went from 3 million in 1776 to 300 million today. That quantitative leap has had its qualitative accompaniment and the US "is no longer the same country it was." France meanwhile has only doubled its population from 30 to 60 million over two hundred years not increased it a hundred fold. It is still basically the same country. Piketty doesn't see the world population increasing 100 fold in the next two hundred years so French development is more likely representative to the future.

He means the trends in inequality seen in French history are more useful to predict future developments than are those seen in US history. This is another example of "American Exceptionalism" as the US experience "is in some sense not generalizable" and social class and inequality in the US are "so peculiar" when contrasted with other countries.

The third reason is that France is "interesting" because its revolution was more "bourgeois" than the English (1688) or the American (1776). The English kept their nobility and the Americans their slaves while the French actually established " the ideal of legal equality [of men] in relation to the market." This has important implications in discussing the growth and future development of inequality. Piketty also says that the concentration of wealth was the same in Britain as in France so even though the French had legal equality for all and the British did not this was not enough to "ensure equality of rights tout court."

We will finish the introduction to Piketty's book in the next posting.

 

- Advertisement -

Interesting 1  
View Ratings | Rate It

Born Lake Worth, FL 1942. Educated FSU and Graduate Center CUNY. Currently teaching philosophy in NYC. Associate editor of Political Affairs online.

Share on Google Plus Submit to Twitter Add this Page to Facebook! Share on LinkedIn Pin It! Add this Page to Fark! Submit to Reddit Submit to Stumble Upon



Go To Commenting
/* The Petition Site */
The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this website or its editors.

Writers Guidelines

Contact AuthorContact Author Contact EditorContact Editor Author PageView Authors' Articles
Related Topic(s): ; , Add Tags
- Advertisement -

Most Popular Articles by this Author:     (View All Most Popular Articles by this Author)

Troubled Children Adopted by Homo/Heterosexual Parents Flourish Equally Well

Part Three of Niall Ferguson on "World Order" by Henry Kissinger

Fateful Steps That Led to the Crisis in Ukraine (Part One)

Lenin on Marxism and Bourgeois Democracy

Betrayal Without Remedy: The Case Of The Missing Hostess Employee Wages

Niall Ferguson on Kissinger's "World Order" [Part Four]