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Thursday, March 20, 2014

WHAT HAVE I BEEN READING?

At the suggestion of my son, Patrick, whose reading recommendations have been unfailingly interesting, I purchased from Amazon.com a new book called CAPITAL in the Twenty-First Century by a French economist with the rather un-French name Thomas Piketty.   It turns out to be a monster -- 577 pages of text and another 100 pages of notes and indices.  I have started reading it [up to page 73] and it is both readable and very interesting.  Piketty, Wikipedia tells me, is what the French call a man of the left -- an advisor to the Socialist Party and a columnist for the Socialist newspaper, Liberation.  He is only forty-two [Ph D at 22] and his parents took part in the Paris demonstrations of '68, so he comes of good stock.  The focus of his elaborate historical and statistical world-analysis is the cause and evolution of economic inequality.  Paul Krugman says on his blog that he is working on a long review of Piketty for the New York Review of Books.  Although I am a slow reader, and will be interrupting all such activities for my safari on April first, I shall try to finish most of the book before the Krugman review appears.  Eventually, I shall attempt my own discussion of it on this blog.

13 comments:

Chris said...

I saw that book came highly recommended by Richard Wolff. Which school of economic thought does Pickety occupy?

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Well, that is difficult for me to say because I do not know the French academic economic scene at all. He has clearly read Marx carefully, he is very well schooled in contemporary American economic theory, his political leanings are, as I said, on the left. His principal concern seems to be inequality and what he calls the "destabilizing" effects of that inequality, though he has not yet said at all what he means by "destabilizing." A great deal of his work has apparently concentrated on assembling and analyzing economic statistics going back as far as the early 18th century.

David Auerbach said...

Who remembers (better than my vague recollection) the thesis of "uneven development"?

trane said...

Looking very much forward to your review.

Cheers,
trane

Chris said...

Right that's the answer I expected. Personally, I think this notion of economic equality, within capitalism, is a desperate last plea from the left, and it's the wrong move to make. But alas I seem to be almost entirely alone in that opinion. Don't get me wrong, I hate the CEO to worker pay rate, I hate the lack of benefits, I hate the destruction of unions, but I don't think equality will fix the problems of capitalism. I think it will worsen them.

Nevertheless, may read that book soon.

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Varying degrees of inequality are compatible with capitalism, as the evidence of the past two centuries shows, but I do not think equality is compatible with capitalism. But let us wait until I have read the book and can say something about it that is at least marginally knowledegable.

Magpie said...

I am reading Piketty as well. I too find him accessible and very interesting.

However, and this is a problem Piketty shares with his associates (Saez, Atkinson et al), he really loves writing long stuff...

Robert Paul Wolff said...

Quite true. It is amusing to contrast his style with that, let us say, of Piero Sraffa.

mesnenor said...

I considered buying the Picketty book, but talked myself out of it. I will read reviews such as the promised one from Krugman, and whatever appears on this blog and other places. From what I've heard of it thus far, I suspect it provides a nuts and bolts economic reading of the 20th century that largely agrees with the less technical discussions of economic matters found in the works of historian Tony Judt (Postwar, Ill Fares the Land, etc.).

Robert Paul Wolff said...

I couldn't say. Thus far, I like it very much. We shall see.

Jerry Fresia said...

FYI: Excellent review by Anthony Dimaggio, whose focus is on Piketty critique of scholarship. "On the Cowardice & Irrelevance of Social Science Scholars" can be found here: http://bit.ly/1iNpH0m

Chris said...

Jerry, thanks for that. One of my BAs is in poli-sci, and this author really hit the nail on the head.

David Auerbach said...

Krugman's précis of his upcoming review