Thomas Piketty on Capitalism and Inequality (Adaner Usmani, JP)


Is Thomas Piketty the world’s most famous economic historian ? A superstar enemy of plutocratic capitalism who wrote a pathbreaking bestseller, Capital in the 21st Century? Or simply a debonair and generous French intellectual happy to talk redistributive justice? Join this 2020 conversation with John and Adaner Usmani (star of RTB’s episode 44: Racism as idea, Racism as Power Relation) to find out.

Why did we invite him? John thinks nobody is better than Piketty at mapping and explaining the nature and origin of the glaring and growing inequality that everywhere defines wealth distribution in the 21st century—both between societies and within them. His recent magnum opus, Capital and Ideology. ask what sorts of stories societies (and individuals within those societies) tell themselves so as to tolerate such inequality—and the poverty and misery it produces. Or even to see that inequality as part of the natural order of things.

Why did he accept our invitation? A mystery, but who are we to look a gift economist in the mouth?

Mentioned in the Episode

Bonus: Here is John’s question about his favorite writer, the one Adaner teased him for not asking:

“Mr. Piketty, you are interested in hinge points where people cease being captivated by one ideology and begin seeing differently (might one also say, begin being captivated by another ideology?) In 2014, Ursula le Guin said:
‘We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.

Can I ask how that resonates with your argument about the rapid changeability of economic paradigms–and moral paradigms for justifying inequality–in Capital and Ideology? “

Read transcript here

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Elizabeth Ferry and John Plotz

Free-ranging discussion of books from the past that cast a sideways light on today's world. Recall This Book is hosted by Elizabeth Ferry, Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University and John Plotz, Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative.

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