Mike Konczal v odlični recenziji Pikettyjeve knjige lucidno ugotavlja, da reformiranje sedanjega sistema tržnega gospodarstva (regulacija bank, omejevanje financiranja političnih strank itd.) ne more rešiti fundamentalnega problema kapitalizma, ki teži k povečanju koncentracije kapitala. Povečano koncentracijo lahko uspešno zmanjšajo le velike depresije in vojne na eni strani, na drugi pa aktivna davčna in socialne politike, ki prerazporejajo dohodke od bogatih k revnim. In prav slednjega je bogate (in vplivne) izjemno strah.
In an especially revealing passage on French rentiers at the turn of the last century, Piketty writes that “universal suffrage and the end of property qualifications for voting…ended the legal domination of politics by the wealthy. But it did not abolish the economic forces capable of producing a society of rentiers.”
This is a remarkable provocation for liberals. Piketty is, in a way, saying: go ahead and make whatever reforms you want. Break up the banks. Pass the campaign finance package of your dreams. Reach deep into the bag and pass all the non-reformist reforms that you can think of. All your reforms can’t guarantee that you are safe from the logic of r > g. Reforms won’t change the nature of capital: to accumulate, eat up a larger share of the economy, and let the past dominate the future. What then?
Policies evolve from identifying a problem. Whether or not it is feasible, Piketty’s suggestion for a global wealth tax evolves from identifying the problem as global and systemic. And here I think this book signals a major change in the debate over inequality.
First, the rosy picture that economists have painted about the nature of inequality has been displaced. The idea that labor’s share of the economy is more or less fixed, an essential element of the mantra that a rising tide lifts all boats, has been dealt a serious, if not fatal, blow.
The idea that the inequality is necessary for a well-functioning society has also been thrown into question. In the wake of the financial crisis and Great Recession, more and more research institutions are finding that higher equality corresponds to better growth, or at least has no negative effect. The causation here might be difficult to prove, but the research suggests that we can no longer take for granted that that growing inequality is a necessary evil for a better economy.
Second, the debate over wealth and taxes is back. Many economists argue that capital income shouldn’t be taxed at all, since it is unfair to tax people because they happen to save, as if it is simply a choice in the marketplace. There are, however, significant advantages to owning wealth, including security, political power, the ability to direct private investment, and much more. These benefits need to be subject to democratic scrutiny.
Tax policy needs to go beyond raising revenues. Capital argues that high taxes can direct income towards more productive and less economically harmful uses, such as keeping incomes within in a firm rather than enriching super-managers; or inheritance taxes can help direct large fortunes toward use for the public good. In Piketty’s analysis, the decline of high marginal tax rates are the main culprit in the large growth of inequality internationally since the 1980s. Since this major transfer of resources didn’t cause an increase in economic productivity, the cost of undoing it will be minimal for the economy as a whole.
As Foucault argued, the ability of social science to know something is the ability to anthropologize it, a power to define it. As such, it becomes a problem to be solved, a question needing an answer, something to be put on a grid of intelligibility, and a domain of expertise that exerts power over what it studies. With Piketty’s Capital, this process is now being extended to the rich and the elite. Understanding how the elite become what they are, and how their wealth perpetuates itself, is now a hot topic of scientific inquiry.
Many have tried to figure out why the rich are freaking out these days. Their wealth was saved from the financial panic, they are having a very excellent recovery, and they are poised to reap even greater gains going forward. Perhaps they are noticing that the dominant narratives about their role in society—avatars of success, job creators for the common good, innovators for social betterment, problem-solving philanthropists—are being replaced with a social science narrative in which they are a problem to be studied. They are still in control, but they are right to be worried.
Vir: Mike Konczal, Boston Review