Piketty’s “Capital,” and the Rest of the World

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.

 

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Drugs: A Legal Market is not a Free Market

English: Flower of a Opium Poppy
Image via Wikipedia

A couple days ago, Otto Perez Molina, recently elected as President of Guatemala; announced that he was willing to decriminalize the commercialization of drugs. According to U.S. authorities, Guatemala has became the transshipment point for more than 75 percent of the cocaine smuggled into the United States since 2005.  Along with this, the Opium poppy cultivation is already done in large parts of the countryside making the production of Guatemalan heroin a greater and the newest worry for the United States. The country’s elites are already part of this business and the paranoia of crimes that used be a remembrance from Colombia‘s 1990s history seems to be repeating in these Central American countries.

What impresses me the most now is how this news has started spreading around my Facebook contacts (mostly libertarians and liberals). Both groups seem to be happy to hear this announcement by Guatemala’s President.  However, both groups applaud the news for different reasons.  The legalization/decriminalization of drugs will not be the panacea we all are hoping for.  Specially not if started by any of the Central American governments.  The reasons are many and I will begin by listing some of them to open the discussion,

  • Corruption, lax enforcement, and judicial impunity levels in Central America are among the highest of the world.
  • Drug lords and their new and powerful money have been mentioned by many analysts to be already part of the politic and economic elites of these countries.
  • The Central American countries in which this drugs are produced and transported are inhabited by a large majority of people living in the lowest leves of Human Development.
  • If legalized, the trade, production and commercialization of drugs (cocaine and heroine mainly) will be regulated by these governments.
  • Without any doubt, this regulations will enable and create legalized monopolies ruled with the partnership of previous drug lords and government officials.
  • It has not been advocated by any of the political leaders which road would take the legalization of drugs. This is important, because under current legalization procedures it is not the same to get the approval for a new medicine in the market as to get the approval for a new liquor, a new energizing drink or of a new edible product.

The history of the legalization (production, trade and commercialization) of items considered by many as drugs and for others as commodities has shown that for as long as a government elite hold the power to legalize it; it was in their power to take the first steps into the acquisition of a monopoly of its trade and production.

If legalized, the emergence of a coercive monopoly would be inevitable. As noted by Ayn Rand, the governments and their partners in these coercive monopolies “will be able of setting the initial prices and production policies independently of the market, with immunity from competition, from the law of supply and demand. An economy dominated by such monopolies would be rigid and stagnant.”

If we support the complete and absolute free trade of all commodities it is necessary that we do not grant to government an intrinsic right to regulate it.  No compromise should ever be done with a government that requires regulation in order to give us legalization.  Legalization should result in freedom and not in regulation.  The drug trade should be opened to businessmen and entrepreneurs in the freest way possible. The freest way is that of requiring the traders to inform their buyers about all the necessary information about the products they are offering.

We may be taking part in a historical moment in which the most important thing are principles.  Let us remember that one of the most valuable principles of trade is Freedom; and that one of the most valuable principles of government is to seek that i will Protect Individual Rights and not to regulate their lives.

Note: To understand more which are the principles that really matter in this discussion, I invite you to take a look to the video titled: The Drug War in Guatemala: A Conversation with Giancarlo Ibarguen.

From One Prohibition to Another (1933-2011)

On December 05, 1933 the Prohibition on the production and commercialization of Alcohol was finally over in the United States when Utah became the 36th U.S. state to ratify the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to enact the amendment (this overturned the 18th Amendment which had made the manufacturing, transportation, import, export, sale, and consumption of alcohol and alcoholic beverages illegal in the United States).

Since then, the alcohol industry (widely hated and considered evil before 1933) started developing into one of the most successful industries of the modern world.  The access to competition ignited an immense diversification of marketing, production and commercialization strategies that improved the quality, safety, additives and capabilities of the previous distilled liquors.

By 2010 The world’s five biggest alcohol companies by market cap had their hubs in Beligum Anheuser-Busch Inbev (BUD), Brazil (Companhia de Bebidas das Américas (AMBEV) (ABV); United Kingdom (Diageo plc (DEO), The Netherlands (Heineken (HINKY.PK) and France (Pernod-Ricard (PDRDF.PK).  And the industry gives provides with jobs to millions of workers around the globe.

Today, in 2011 we face a different but at the same time similar Prohibition of a product.  I refer to the research, production, industrialization and commercialization of controlled drugs (marihuana, cocaine, etc.) that has been condemned by world government with the same irrational argument once used with alcohol.

Because of this Prohibition on Drugs; the world is facing a Trillionaire war leaded by the United States politicians who profit from it. More so, millions of jobs are lost every day and in the countries in which it is produced and stored before reaching the final markets the chaos reigns (for just one story of how this chaos come into being check: The Drug War in Guatemala: A Conversation with Giancarlo Ibarguen).

Let us learn from history and save our children and future generations from committing the same mistakes.

The Drug War in Guatemala: A Conversation with Giancarlo Ibarguen

“I blame the war on drugs in the United States for what is happening here in Guatemala.”
Giancarlo Ibarguen

Most of the cocaine shipped north from Central and South America these days travels through Guatemala and into Mexico before eventually crossing the border to the United States. The value of that cocaine, even before it enters the US market, is approximately $40 billion a year. That’s nearly the size of Guatemala’s entire economy.

The drug cartels in Guatemala act with impunity and effectively control much of the country. As Guatemala’s President Alvaro Colom recently told Al Jazeera, “The drug traffickers are much better armed and financed than our military and our government.” Guatemala, as a result, has become a very dangerous place to live.

What’s the solution? According to Giancarlo Ibarguen, president of the Universidad Francisco Marroquin, the US government should end its war on drugs.

Approximately 5 minutes.

Produced by Paul Feine and Alex Manning.

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