Who, Whom? (As Usual)

by Andrew Stuttaford

To the extent that “the history of all hitherto existing society” is, as that wicked old millenarian Karl Marx liked to claim, “the history of class struggles” it is that of a class struggle within the top few percent. And that’s probably the best way to interpret the ecstatic response in some circles to the publication of what sounds like a classically sinister redistributionist tract. In the more egalitarian society envisaged by Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the intelligentsia would have a much better chance, one way or another, of ending up at the top of the heap, and that, in the end, is what counts. Lenin, a man with a considerably sharper eye for political realities than Marx, believed, in essence, that politics could be reduced to the question “who, whom?”, or, more precisely, who was going to control whom. Understand that, and you will understand that much of the buzz over Piketty’s book is merely an expression of self-interest, cloaked in the usual ‘progressive’ camo.

Writing in The Federalist, David Harsanyi notes:

Like many progressives, Piketty doesn’t really believe most people deserve their wealth anyway, so confiscating it presents no real moral dilemma. He also argues that we can measure a person’s productivity and the value of a worker (namely, low-skilled laborers), while at the same time he argues that other groups of workers (namely, the kind of people he doesn’t admire) are bequeathed undeserved “arbitrary” salaries….

…Sounds familiar. What is to be done? Do we cap salaries and slot everyone into their proper place, like unions? How do we measure the productivity of a CEO or a bestseller author? Who decides what measurements we should use to determine the relative worth of even less tangible work? A government official? A council of the people? Maybe a quorum of trusted economists?

It’s the people who believe that they are the sort who will be called upon to take such decisions who are cheering Piketty on. In his re-made world, they would be in charge, and they would get the spoils. And that’s what their excitement is really about.

In City Journal, Guy Sorman adds:

Piketty’s book is less interested in economic efficiency than in social justice. “Building a just society,” he writes, “is the purpose of democracy.” For Piketty, “just” is the equivalent of “egalitarian.” He doesn’t explain why this should be so, though his equation of the two surely explains why Capital in the Twenty-First Century has political appeal among American academics, the media, and liberal politicians on both sides of the Atlantic—from President Obama to French president François Hollande. Offering no alternatives to the free market, the Left now fights for income equality, and Piketty’s book is thus an intellectual boon.

And a jobs program (for them: For the kulaks not so much).