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Friday, April 18, 2014

A NOTE ABOUT NOTES


Jason Palma made the following comment on my post-safari musings about Piketty:  "Another thought - I have to wonder if Professor Piketty - like Jean-Jacques Rousseau did in his Discourse On Inequality - buried any explosive suggestions in his footnotes......."  I was forced to confess that I had not in fact read the footnotes.  Well, now I have -- seventy-six pages of small print!  I would not go so far as to say there is anything explosive in the notes, but there are some tasty bits.  Herewith a list of notes I found worth mentioning, for those actually reading Piketty.


Page 600 -- note 33   Why is Piketty always so careful to speak disparagingly of Marx?

page 601 -- note 11

Page 601 -- note 20 

Page 606 -- note 30  for one of Piketty's many delicious digs at the American economic profession

Page 608 -- note 3   A technical dig at Gary Becker, whom Piketty admirably does not like.

Page 614 -- note 29 Another of P's delightful allusions to popular culture.  

Page 616 -- note 7   Contra Becker yet again.  Boy, P really does not think much of him.

Page 619 -- note 36  Nice merging of statistical data and literary allusions

Page 620 -- note 46  Very interesting historical contrast between 19th century France and America

Page 621 -- note 52  Good grief.  P even watches Desperate Housewives.  Where does he find the time?

Page 621 -- note 57 and the text  Good example of Piketty's sardonic style.  Quite lovely.

Page 627 -- note 46  One of many passages that could have been written by Marx.  Why does P work so hard to distance himself from someone with whom he has such obvious filiations?

Page 630 -- note 17 A quietly devastating footnote about America's incarceration of Black men.

Page 636 -- note 20  Another pointed dig at the ideological rationalizations of ostensibly objective journals.  P is really a pleasure to read.

Page 640 -- note 49  "Contrary to an idea that is often taught but rarely verified .."  P really does a number on the [American] economics profession.  They are going to find it hard to swallow this book or ignore it.

Page 640 -- note 55  This is a note to the following passage on page 514 of the text:  "The experience of France in the Belle Ḗpoque proves, if proof were needed, that no hypocrisy is too great when economic and financial elites are obliged to defend their interests -- and that includes economists, who currently occupy an enviable position in the US income hierarchy.  Some economists have an unfortunate tendency to defend their private interest while implausibly claiming to champion the general interest."

Page 650 -- note 33  So much for Google!

Page 653 -- note 49  P is no kinder to his own countrymen.

Page 655 -- note 2 [The last note of the book]  The note reads:  "When one reads philosophers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Louis Althusser, and Alain Badiou on their Marxist and/or communist commitments, one sometimes has the impression that questions of capital and class inequality are of only moderate interest to them and serve mainly as a pretext for jousts of a different nature entirely."  I do think that  we must excuse Piketty for his negative feelings about Mar x, considering the collection of supposed Marxists among whom he grew up.  

1 comment:

Chris said...

Wolff,

In regards to:

"Page 600 -- note 33 Why is Piketty always so careful to speak disparagingly of Marx?"

What is your assessment of this claim in regards to ALL economists and (many) philosophers? Nearly ALL economists go out of their way to refute Marx and yet it's always clear that those same thinkers simply haven't bothered to read him at even a cursory level. For instance, the NYTimes had an op-ed series a few weeks back on Marx, and it was crystal clear all but one author had actually read Marx. Along with Kenneth Rogoff's recent article in Project Syndicate. I mean these are people with degrees from Ivy League schools, so it's not as if Marx is beyond their reading comprehension, but for some reason people in general feel totally comfortable with speaking about something they haven't done the slightest investigation into. Yet you'd never see an op-ed piece on: "was Einstein right to worry about quantum mechanics", covered by people who had no knowledge of the subject....

Sometimes I feel like even if I disagreed with Marx on everything, I'd have an ethical obligation - as a philosopher - to be a Marxist, just to set the story straight. Just like as an atheist I feel an obligation to defend Christianity from the right wing, just to be clear about what Jesus actually said…..


As far as the final comment, I think treatment of Althusser is a bit unfair. Badiou is clearly a Marxist in name only, but Althusser genuinely attempted to augment the theories of Marxism; especially ideology and historical materialism (even if we think he was a failure).

Sources:
https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/kenneth-rogoff-identifies-several-obstacles-to-keeping-living-standards-on-an-upward-trajectory

http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/03/30/was-marx-right