Video: Thomas Piketty Discusses, “Capital In The 21st Century” with Ryan Grim and Alexis Goldstein

The book by the French economist Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has already become part of everyday discussions and is being referenced among academics. The research by Piketty has come in the perfect time and there are plenty of reasons why. Piketty’s book discussion brings some light to the study of income quintiles and deciles into a new debate of the “the skyrocketing incomes of the 1% — and the mind-boggling gains of the 0.1% and 0.01%  — by gathering and publishing income tax data that nobody had bothered with before. Piketty was behind similar projects in France, Britain, Japan, and other countries.” (via Justin Fox at the Harvard Business Review)

I finished reading the book this weekend and it was eye-opening. The book presents great challenges to the study of capital and inequalities in the developed economies as well as in the rest of the world. The book also opens the doors for a wider discussion on the effects European Capital has had in the global economy. Further, the book invites globalists to challenge our understanding of European-centric terms that over longer periods of time become, perhaps, insufficient to comprehend global economic processes over the passing of centuries and how these processes have changed and transformed themselves by a complex evolution and redefinition.

It can’t be denied that capital during all of the 19th Century and in the beginning of the 20th Century was centered in the main European metropolises and extracted most of the goods from the periphery. Few Capital remained in colonies and protectorates. Wealth belonged to the Empires and Poverty remained in colonial territories. Even the poorest of the European was considered Rich by comparison to the inhabitants of Colonies.

Today, European Empires are gone for a while, U.S. Capital increased and gained from the fall of the European Empires and new economies started developing in former Colonies. Giant Economies like China and Russia woke up after decades of isolation from global trade and today reconfigured our understanding of Capital. Piketty’s book somehow fails to explore this Global political changes and its economic effects.

Piketty’s central argument has a gigantic weakness since it is tied to nation-states and cannot be compared or understood in reference to Global Capital flows in today’s multinational economy. Very few references are made to the role played by Multinational Companies and foreign national investments and savings by State Companies in the world.  And less is mentioned of global inequalities and the North-South divide that has been increased by the investments done by Developed and Developing Economies in the rest of the world.  Piketty argues that Capital has tended over time to grow faster than the overall economy (he focuses on European and US economies); and that income from capital is invariably much less evenly distributed than labor income (again he focuses on European and US economies). Thus failing to acknowledge how Labor income stopped been localized during the 20th Century and it involved multiple polities far away from the metropolis.  Piketty argues that together (Capital growth and its uneven distribution) amount to a powerful force for increasing inequality.

Piketty doesn’t take things as far as Marx and this is a pitty. Marx’s methodology involved the State but it also referenced to its effects both and from the peripheries through the pass of longer periods of time. This is one of the most important contributions of Marx: his global understand of the economy.

Piketty shows how over the two-plus centuries for which good records exist, the only major decline in capital’s economic share and in economic inequality was the result of World Wars I and II, which destroyed lots of capital and brought much higher taxes in the U.S. and Europe. However, he again fails to acknowledge how Capital grew in the Global South after these wars as a result of increased inequalities in the Colonies and Agriculture-centered States in South America and Asia. During the wars Capital destruction was followed by a spectacular run of economic growth that involved the entire globe and not only Europe and the U.S.  The Cold War is a good reference for finding how Capital flows went from Europe to Asia, America and Africa.  As well, the run of economic growth started involving non-State actors in which Capital continue increasing at a higher and faster rate than the one he references and studies. Failing to study this shows in Piketty’s book that after decades of peace, slowing growth, and declining tax rates, capital and inequality are on the rise all over the developed world only, and it’s not clear what if anything will alter that trajectory in the decades to come.  However, the declining tax rates, capital and inequality are on the rise at a faster pace in the developing economies and in the “puppet states” (Nigeria, Chile, the Middle East countries) which have emerged around them as sources of petrol, minerals and rare earths.

Piketty’s main worry as points out Justin Fox is that “growing wealth in Europe will bring a return to 19th century circumstances in which most affluent people get that way through inheritance.” Plus, “U.S. median income will continue lossing ground relative to other nations in the following years”. But this are not the only worries that we should identify.  The BRICS countries are probably a good source of comparison to see how the growing wealth of the 20th Century remains on the hands of the few rich and is currently been passed through inheritance. Further, developing economies in South America and Africa are an extreme case of the last.

Piketty’s solution to Europe’s and U.S. problems is that a progressive global wealth tax be established. But this tax will fail to be the best response to the current dynamics of inequality if Capital continues flowing outside of Europe into multinational capital investments overseas and into State companies overseas. 

I enjoyed this political economy analysis and will continue learning a lot from it. Piketty’s solution is a challenge for the study of global political economy and the reconfiguration of the global economy in the 21st Century. Perhaps if a new book is published studying the shareholders who own the most stock in almost every Fortune 500 company and the Capital of any major global company instead of only the economies of France, Germany or the United States more accurate insights will be found.

 

About Guillermo Pineda

Soy un defensor de la libertad individual, el libre mercado racional y la búsqueda de crear un estado de derecho en el que todos podamos desarrollarnos en igualdad, paz, fraternidad y comunidad. Creo que el trabajo duro en equipo, la autoestima y el amor por nuestra familia son la energía primaria para la generación de riqueza en nuestras comunidades. Busco la la objetividad y la razón en la epistemología y considero que el valor supremo por el que se deben medir los juicios de valor éticos es el valor de la vida humana. Considero la vida el más alto valor; pero no cualquier tipo de vida, sino la vida que se vive buscando la felicidad en ausencia de coerción o privilegios. Creo que no hay humanos, razas, culturas o pensamientos mejores o superiores. Sin embargo, sí creo que hay argumentos erróneos e irracionales que deben ser combatidos en el campo de las ideas. Así, también creo que enseñar y practicar una vida sin argumentos místicos y contradicciones filosóficas es una herramienta imprescindible para demostrar que la búsqueda de la felicidad sí es posible y no es una utopía. Creo que los fundamentos del capitalismo laissez-faire proveen de las herramientas necesarias para crear un mejor futuro. Pero también acepto que los privilegios heredados y existentes, las injusticias cometidas en el pasado, las guerras y la actual moral contradictoria e irracional de las elites son el principal enemigo para que este sistema funcione. Por eso, considero que es necesario y FUNDAMENTAL estudiar la historia de manera objetiva, global, consistente y que luego, se realicen las reparaciones necesarias y posibles con aquellas naciones, pueblos, grupos y personas que han sido afectados. Creo que solo empezando con una consciencia limpia se puede empezar a construir un futuro limpio. Finalmente, creo que solo cuando logremos hacer una revolución moral que nos enseñe las herramientas para buscar la felicidad podremos vivir en paz respetando los principios éticos y jurídicos, la libre autodeterminación de los pueblos, la verdad y la justicia, y la tolerancia cultural de un planeta con infinitas y variadas costumbres y tradiciones. Por lo tanto defiendo que: El hombre es un fin en sí mismo y que la realidad es una verdad absoluta compuesta por hechos independientes de los sentimientos humanos. Creo en la razón como el medio más importante para percibir la realidad y además creo en la razón como la fuente más valiosa del conocimiento y guía de acción para la búsqueda de la felicidad individual, de nuestras familias, de nuestras comunidades y de toda la especie humana. Creo fehacientemente en que el hombre es un fin en sí mismo y no el medio para los fines de otros. Rechazo el sacrificio de uno o de un grupo para el beneficio de otro u otros grupos. Pero afirmo la responsabilidad y necesidad de reparar y reivindicar los crímenes cometidos por la humanidad a lo largo de la historia. Me propongo buscar mi satisfaccion racional y busco alcanzar la felicidad como el valor moral más alto de mi vida. No simpatizo con los defensores del colectivismo, del altruismo irracional y de los polilogismos de raza, clase, status o cultura. Tampoco simpatizo con los defensores del gobierno benefactor que buscando políticas altruistas o colectivistas esté dispuesto a sacrificar la vida de los humanos y sus derechos individuales sin su previo consentimiento en las urnas. Reconozco la moralidad del altruismo irracional como uno de los mayores enemigos del ser humano pues el mismo establece que el hombre no tiene ningún derecho a vivir par sí mismo, sino, para la colectividad. El altruismo no es más que la proclamación del sacrificio por otros como el mayor deber moral del hombre y es una amenaza a la razón y libertad individual. Declaro ser un defensor de las ideas que defienden el derecho de los individuos a buscar su felicidad racional y pacífica. Bragging rights Soy un individualista que ama a su comunidad de la misma manera en que quiere ser amado por ella.

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