It seems easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism; perhaps that is due to some weakness in our imaginations
- Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time
, the French economist, was dubbed the modern Marx by The Economist
in the wake of his bestselling Capital in the 21st Century
, which presented historical data reaching back to the eighteenth century and focused on the dynamics of the distribution of wealth and income and the destabilizing force represented by: r > g
– that is, the private rate of return on capital over time can be much higher than the rate of growth of income and output. Readers noted however, in addition to pointing out this ‘central contradiction of capitalism’ Professor Piketty was also clear that the purpose of social science is not
to produce mathematical certainties that substitute for inclusive democratic debate. More importantly, he made the case for the progressive taxation of capital, and among many other things for going back to using the term ‘political economy’ for the field of economics – all of which did not render his analysis Marxist, although admittedly, the label made for more catchy magazine column titles in 2014.
Six years in the making Piketty has extended the hopeful reach of his analysis by including a much larger global sampling of historical data – not just Western market economies this time, and by expanding the focus to include the political and ideological in his comparative analysis of capital accumulation and ‘inequality regimes’. The professor does so with the same underlying optimism and realistic eye on promoting the social learning process in which we all find ourselves as individuals within various cultures and societies. Enter his expanded interdisciplinary contribution to comparative political economy – Capital and Ideology
(Harvard University Press, 2020) – essential reading.
Thomas Piketty is a professor at the Paris School of Economics, and a Director of The School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences.
Keith Krueger lectures at the SHU-UTS Business School in Shanghai.