cover image Capital and Ideology

Capital and Ideology

Thomas Piketty, trans. from the French by Arthur Goldhammer. Belknap, $39.95 (1,120p) ISBN 978-0-674-98082-2

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.)