Piketty Redux: Property and Social Justice

Readers of these pieces will be familiar with Thomas Piketty the French economist who a few years ago wrote Capital in the Twenty First Century and whose impact is reflected in our emphasis upon inequality. He has now written a kind of sequel Capital and Ideology which some say will do for politics what the Capital book did for economics. The 1200 page book which was just published in France will be available in English next March but Piketty has already given interviews and spoken of his new ideas. He says he wanted to redress what he perceived as a weakness in Capital where he only dealt with the West. In this one he deals with the whole world.  In the first part of the book he makes clear how the idea of property including slave ownership had political and ideological ramifications. The second part addresses recipes for how he sees the problems that lay behind the inequalities we have today. Some are quite radical, he asks for example that we give up on the idea of property as being essentially sacred, an idea upon which capitalism and modern economies are built. He also suggests that wealth could be borrowed, in other words we could own it temporarily for certain periods of time. He also suggests that all young people be given an inheritance before they start their adult life not after, in certain ways hoping to level the playing field. One headline I saw said Piketty wanted to do away with billionaires leading me to believe that in today’s US some of these ideas are already talked about. Whether they’re radical or not, whether they can actually be implemented or not may not be the crux of this book’s importance. It may be that like the other one it forces us to grapple with issues crucial to social justice.

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