Capital And Ideology
by Thomas Piketty
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Publishers Weekly Rather than an economic law of nature, capitalism’s remorseless promotion of inequality is a political choice that can be undone with redistributive polices, argues economist Piketty (Capital in the Twenty-First Century) in this wide-ranging historical survey of “inequality regimes”—dogmas that justify hierarchies of wealth and power. He focuses on modern capitalist “ownership societies” in Europe and America that made property rights the “quasi-sacred” basis of political order. (Britain and France, Piketty notes, compensated slave owners for lost human “property” after abolition.) The extremes of wealth and poverty such economic systems generated subsided with the 20th-century rise of high-tax social-democratic welfare states, he argues—then returned in today’s “hypercapitalist” global economy, bringing social disaffection and nativist politics with them. Piketty’s scholarship, encompassing everything from Ottoman tax receipts to Jane Austen novels, is formidable but ponderous; fortunately, readers can easily follow his arguments just by browsing the fascinating data charts and tables. The statistical blizzard supports Piketty’s case for a “participatory socialism” that would make Bernie Sanders blush, featuring income and wealth taxes of 90% on the rich, worker comanagement of corporations, universal access to college, open borders, and global governance via “transnational assemblies.” This ambitious manifesto will stir controversy, but also cement Piketty’s position as the Left’s leading economic theorist. (Mar.)

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Kirkus A massive investigation of economic history in the service of proposing a political order to overcome inequality.Readers who like their political manifestoes in manageable sizes, la Common Sense or The Communist Manifesto, may be overwhelmed by the latest from famed French economist Piketty (Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century: Inequality and Redistribution, 1901-1998, 2014, etc.), but it's a significant work. The author interrogates the principal forms of economic organization over time, from slavery to "non-European trifunctional societies," Chinese-style communism, and "hypercapitalist" orders, in order to examine relative levels of inequality and its evolution. Each system is founded on an ideology, and "every ideology, no matter how extreme it may seem in its defense of inequality, expresses a certain idea of social justice." In the present era, at least in the U.S., that idea of social justice would seem to be only that the big ones eat the little ones, the principal justification being that the wealthiest people became rich because they are "the most enterprising, deserving, and useful." In fact, as Piketty demonstrates, there's more to inequality than the mere "size of the income gap." Contrary to hypercapitalist ideology and its defenders, the playing field is not level, the market is not self-regulating, and access is not evenly distributed. Against this, Piketty arrives at a proposed system that, among other things, would redistribute wealth across societies by heavy taxation, especially of inheritances, to create a "participatory socialism" in which power is widely shared and trade across nations is truly free. The word "socialism," he allows, is a kind of Pandora's box that can scare people offand, he further acknowledges, "the Russian and Czech oligarchs who buy athletic teams and newspapers may not be the most savory characters, but the Soviet system was a nightmare and had to go." Yet so, too, writes the author, is a capitalism that rewards so few at the expense of so many.A deftly argued case for a new kind of socialism that, while sure to inspire controversy, bears widespread discussion. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.