• Richard Farr

Piketty's primary


It's a commonplace in American and much other discourse, from the farthest reaches of the market-evangelical libertarian right to the Biden smile-n-waffle center, that high rates of progressive taxation are inefficient and/or evil and that a return to them would usher in the economic end-times. (Socialism! The collapse of competition and entrepreneurship! Alas my poor Gulfstream!)


Thomas Piketty has demonstrated before that this is, to borrow a fine phrase from elsewhere, the illusion of the epoch: high rates of marginal taxation would almost certainly not have the bad effects it is said they would have by people who don't like the idea for personal reasons, and would make it possible to pursue many polices that would have excellent positive effects.


Yet this rightist illusion is one that the modern Democratic party has bent itself to serve, as the party has transformed itself from the natural home of the working class to the natural home of the patrician upper middle. The problem is nicely put in a review in The Guardian of Piketty's new doorstop, Capital and Ideology:

The result of these postwar trends is that western democracies are now dominated by two rival elites, reflected in many two-party electoral systems: a financial elite (or “merchant right”) that favours open markets, and an educational elite (or “Brahmin left”) that stands for cultural diversity, but has lost faith in progressive taxation as a basis for social justice. With these as the principal democratic options, nativist parties prosper, opposing educational and economic inequality, but only on the basis of tighter national borders. There is a vacancy for parties willing to defend internationalism and redistribution simultaneously.

This is why Biden's surge depresses me so much: once again the wealthier sort who in effect run the Democratic Party have learned all the wrong lessons.