The big redistributor is back

Thomas Piketty has given the economic debate a new direction with “Capital in the 21st Century”. His follow-up volume is now published in German – and could thus be successful with people who dream of bigger changes.

Thomas Piketty advocates a participatory socialism that does not privilege entrepreneurs and their families.

Dhe American journalist Mekita Rivas sparked conversation these days when she claimed that the $ 500 million that Michael Bloomberg spent on his failed election campaign could have given each of the 374 million Americans a million dollars and that there would still be money for Bloomberg left free. Ms. Rivas doesn’t like mathematics, but the idea that huge sums of money can be mobilized through redistribution from rich to poor is not only widespread among supporters of politicians like Bernie Sanders who want to score points with the topic of inequality.

Intellectual support for a policy of vigorous redistribution has long come from the French economist Thomas Piketty, whose new book “Capital and Ideology”, presented in France in 2019, is now also being published in German. Like its now famous predecessor “Capital in the 21st Century”, which appeared a few years ago, Piketty also combines extremely extensive economic-historical analyzes with political proposals that do not necessarily result from economic-historical considerations in his current work, which has more than 1,300 pages derive.

Piketty does not side with any ideology

Piketty strongly opposes the notion that inequality is a necessary feature of economic success in a privately owned society where the rich are richer than the poor, but economic progress does not benefit the rich only. Instead, he posits: “An important conclusion from historical analysis will be that it was the struggle for equality and education that made economic development and human progress possible, not the canonization of property, stability and inequality.”

He is afraid that a new nationalism will do great harm if the inequality of income and wealth that has increased in many countries over the past few decades is not halted. Piketty, who describes himself as an optimist, does not see the path into gloom as inevitable. Just as he criticizes liberal thinking, he rejects the materialist view of history that characterizes Marxism.

Ideas are important to the French; In his view, conditions can change if the way people think about the world changes: “In history, ideas and ideologies are crucial.” Nothing is predetermined, and in the face of the many threats to ours World must be acted quickly.

With the importance of inequality as an important driving force of contemporary populism, Piketty makes a point that other social scientists would agree with. The French are not an opponent of globalization, to which he ascribes a kind of Janus-headed character: “Between the base and the middle of the global income pyramid, the income differences are smaller, between the middle and the top they have increased. One aspect of globalization is as real as the other. “

Piketty does not trust the possibility of reacting to the challenges of our time with recipes from traditional social democratic parties: “After the failure of communism, the social democratic program never seriously tried to rethink the conditions of just property.” This is how the social democrats have had their educational policy made into a “party of the highly educated” – only the “disadvantaged classes” have been lost.

Basic equipment of 120,000 euros

No, Piketty wants to be more radical, and it is precisely his trust in ideas and ideologies that allows his thoughts to fly. In a world of ideas in which there is no market and competition, profit and wages, capital and debts, tax havens and competitiveness “as such” because they merely represent “social and historical constructions”, it is easy to think the world differently .

In his conception of “participatory socialism” there is only “social and temporary property” and a wealth tax, the rate of which goes up to 90 percent. With the funds raised in this way, young people could receive an endowment of 120,000 euros per head. Piketty rejects all objections aimed at technical hurdles with the grandeur of the free spirit: the flight of capital by the wealthy from a country is not a problem if one only creates a kind of international financial cadastre.

Traditional economists, of course, hold Piketty underestimating the importance of incentives for human behavior: Both successful entrepreneurs, who are deprived of most of their profits, as well as young people who are simply given a six-figure sum, received the fatal impression that that economic performance is not worthwhile. Piketty counters, on the one hand, that the importance of the entrepreneur for economic success is overestimated. Basically, he thinks that economists who often work in specialized fields are at a disadvantage compared to colleagues who are more broadly based in the social sciences.

It is unlikely that Piketty will conquer the professional world with his new book. He could be more successful with Mekita Rivas and many other people who dream of bigger changes.