I am half way through Piketty’s book and I can tell you it is a tour de force and it is written for the masses. There isn’t much in here (so far) that a high school grad with basic economics and math wouldn’t understand. The Economist magazine review was right on that front. No wonder it is such a best seller.
But I can’t help thinking that Piketty, like most of us, is quite opportunistic. I got that feeling when I saw him speaking on CNBC.
I remember back to the first time I saw Bill O’Reilly on Fox News. I remember thinking that he could have just as easily staked out a position on the left of the ideological spectrum but that space was already filled to the brim. Sam Donaldson at ABC was a favourite target for right wingers back in the 1980s when I went to university. O’Reilly carved out a massive niche on the right and is now one of the richest media personalities of all time.
The unassuming, frumpy Piketty is the economist version of Bill O’Reilly. His book will resonate with large swaths of the population and ultimately will nudge opinion – I think – even in the United Sates on this issue of wealth inequality.
And as for the wealthy, they had better hold on the for the ride. I think back to what FDR said when he was called a traitor to his class. He said “I’m the only one between your wealth and the masses” – a phrase a little more timely with the onset of communism but it still holds today. In a democracy, the people are more or less in control. It takes time but pendulums swing. Just 30 years ago, the U.S. had a top marginal tax rate of over 70%.
Plus Piketty comes across much better than Krugman. Krugman makes a person feel like a complete jerk for not believing what he says. Piketty acknowledges you have a point and than politely tells you his point is slightly better. Kruggy could learn a lesson.