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Capital and Ideology

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The epic successor to one of the most important books of the century: at once a retelling of global history, a scathing critique of contemporary politics, and a bold proposal for a new and fairer economic system.

Thomas Piketty's bestselling Capital in the Twenty-First Century galvanized global debate about inequality. In this audacious follow-up, Piketty challenges us to revolutionize how we think about politics, ideology, and history. He exposes the ideas that have sustained inequality for the past millennium, reveals why the shallow politics of right and left are failing us today, and outlines the structure of a fairer economic system.

Our economy, Piketty observes, is not a natural fact. Markets, profits, and capital are all historical constructs that depend on choices. Piketty explores the material and ideological interactions of conflicting social groups that have given us slavery, serfdom, colonialism, communism, and hypercapitalism, shaping the lives of billions. He concludes that the great driver of human progress over the centuries has been the struggle for equality and education and not, as often argued, the assertion of property rights or the pursuit of stability. The new era of extreme inequality that has derailed that progress since the 1980s, he shows, is partly a reaction against communism, but it is also the fruit of ignorance, intellectual specialization, and our drift toward the dead-end politics of identity.

Once we understand this, we can begin to envision a more balanced approach to economics and politics. Piketty argues for a new "participatory" socialism, a system founded on an ideology of equality, social property, education, and the sharing of knowledge and power. Capital and Ideology is destined to be one of the indispensable books of our time, a work that will not only help us understand the world, but that will change it.

1104 pages, Hardcover

First published September 12, 2019

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About the author

Thomas Piketty

58 books1,897 followers
Thomas Piketty (French: [tɔma pikɛti]; born May 7, 1971) is a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is the director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and professor at the Paris School of Economics. He is the author of the best selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), which emphasizes the themes of his work on wealth concentrations and distribution over the past 250 years. The book argues that the rate of capital return in developed countries is persistently greater than the rate of economic growth, and that this will cause wealth inequality to increase in the future. To address this problem, he proposes redistribution through a global tax on wealth.

Piketty was born on May 7, 1971, in the Parisian suburb of Clichy. He gained a C-stream (scientific) Baccalauréat, and after taking scientific preparatory classes, he entered the École Normale Supérieure (ENS) at the age of 18, where he studied mathematics and economics. At the age of 22, Piketty was awarded his Ph.D. for a thesis on wealth redistribution, which he wrote at the EHESS and the London School of Economics under Roger Guesnerie.

After earning his PhD, Piketty taught from 1993 to 1995 as an assistant professor in the Department of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1995, he joined the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) as a researcher, and in 2000 he became director of studies at EHESS.

Piketty won the 2002 prize for the best young economist in France, and according to a list dated November 11, 2003, he is a member of the scientific orientation board of the association "À gauche, en Europe", founded by Michel Rocard and Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

In 2006 Piketty became the first head of the Paris School of Economics, which he helped set up. He left after a few months to serve as an economic advisor to Socialist Party candidate Ségolène Royal during the French presidential campaign. Piketty resumed teaching at the Paris School of Economics in 2007.

He is a columnist for the French newspaper Libération, and occasionally writes op-eds for Le Monde.

In April 2012, Piketty co-authored along with 42 colleagues an open letter in support of then-PS candidate for the French presidency François Hollande. Hollande won the contest against the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy in May of that year.

In 2013, Piketty won the biennial Yrjö Jahnsson Award, for the economist under age 45 who has "made a contribution in theoretical and applied research that is significant to the study of economics in Europe."

Piketty specializes in economic inequality, taking a historic and statistical approach. His work looks at the rate of capital accumulation in relation to economic growth over a two hundred year spread from the nineteenth century to the present. His novel use of tax records enabled him to gather data on the very top economic elite, who had previously been understudied, and to ascertain their rate of accumulation of wealth and how this compared to the rest of society and economy. His most recent book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, relies on economic data going back 250 years to show that an ever-rising concentration of wealth is not self-correcting. To address this problem, he proposes redistribution through a global tax on wealth.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 348 reviews
Profile Image for Laurent Franckx.
179 reviews69 followers
December 12, 2019
No one would dare to suggest that Thomas Piketty lacks ambition.
Just a few years after he wrote an unexpected bestseller on inequality which was largely filled with dry discussions of data and graphs, he's back with another work that most people would see as the result of a lifetime's work.
"Capital et idéologie" is not just voluminous (just under 1200 pages). It is also wide ranging in its scope, and is actually composed of several parts that could easily have been published as separate books: a discussion of the ideological justifications for inequality of income and wealth in past political arrangements (European middle ages, Europe in the aftermath of the French revolution, colonialism, slave holding societies, caste based India, etc); an overview of the most important developments throughout the 20th century (including in communist countries); a discussion of the changing composition of the electorate of left wing parties, a discussion of inequality in the current state of the world; and concrete policy proposals for what he calls a "democratic and participative socialism".
If I would have to summarize my assessment of the book in one sentence, I would say that it is not only a collection of separate books; one often has the feeling that it has been written by two separate authors: there is Piketty, the scholar, who seriously ponders all the arguments and complexities when he discusses a topic; and there is Piketty, the activist, who doesn't refrain from intellectual shortcuts and selective quoting of the literature.
Let me elaborate on both aspects.
The scholar is mostly present when Piketty discusses topics that have no fundamental implications for his assessment of the present. One of the most striking examples of an eye opening but balanced discussion is the history of how French revolutionaries coped with the issue of property after 1789.
Piketty discusses one of the fundamental problems of the revolution. On the one hand, one of the first actions the revolutionaries undertook was to abolish all the privileges of the aristocracy. On the other hand, it wanted to protect private property (not surprisingly, given that its figureheads were mostly well-off bourgeois).
As soon as principles had to be translated in practical measures, though, the new lawmakers ran into problems. Some cases were easy, to be sure. For instance, the tax exemption enjoyed by aristocrats were a privilege whose abolition did not enter into conflict with private property rights. But other cases were much more ambiguous. What with the rents received from the peasants and the free labor supplied by them? Were those inherited privileges or the fruits of private property rights that needed to be protected? Was the free labor a hidden form of slavery or was it a payment in kind of the rents owed to the owners of the land?
Picketty discusses how lawmakers tried to solve this problem by looking at the origins of the property. If the original acquisition of land had been the result of a voluntary commercial agreement, so the doctrine went, the rents were legitimate. If, however, the land had been acquired by force, rent was an aristocratic privilege and was not legitimate. Given that some of those properties had been in the hands of aristocrats for centuries, it is not hard to see that it was very difficult to apply those principles in practice. Moreover, before codification of the law, there was a wide variety in local practices, and attempts to codify custom law exacerbated the problems when the same legal term meant different things in different places.
It's also interesting to see how Piketty deals with those issues himself. While he is unapologetically partisan and left-of-centre, Piketty acknowledges that clearly defined and enforced property rights are a necessary condition for the functioning of society and he acknowledges the conundrum that while it might be true that if you go back long enough in time, any big fortune started with theft, this cannot serve as a basis for dealing with currently existing property rights.
He is thus actually fairly mild when judging the work of the revolutionary lawmakers. He does ask though whether they shouldn't have focused on a different issues than whether the property rights were legitimate, namely the redistribution of (parts of) those rights through progressive taxation.
To be sure, progressive wealth taxes were discussed in the last decade of the 18th century, but the idea was abandoned, lest it would open a Pandora's box that would eventually lead to marginal tax rates that would lead to total expropriation Here as well, Piketty is nuanced in his judgement: in a world that had no prior experience with progressive taxation, such fears were not completely unjustified, he writes.
The chapter on slavery is just as interesting. Even people who abhorred the institution of slavery in principle were against its abolition in practice, as it conflicted with the property rights of the slaveholders. It is not surprising then, that when slavery was eventually abolished, the slaveholders were compensated for their financial losses (with taxpayers' money, and this in times of very limited government), while the former slaves didn't receive any compensation (or even had to contribute to the compensation of their former owners). (One notable exception was the United States, where slavery was, as is well known, abolished following an extremely bloody civil war).
But this balanced pondering of different perspectives completely disappears when Piketty touches on topics that are central to his worldview.
One first example is his discussion of the impact of colonialism on the economic development of the West (or more broadly, to the emergence of the "great divergence" between the West and the rest of the world in the 19th century). To be sure, the existing literature on Western imperialism has, until recently, paid insufficient attention to, for instance, the deliberate destruction of existing industrial activities in India by the British, through a series of measures that are closer to old-fashioned mercantilism than to the spirit of Adam Smith. It is undoubtedly a good thing that more attention is being paid to this topic and to other aspect of the long lasting impact of imperialism on economic development in former colonies (Piketty's account of how Haiti was treated by its former colonial power after independence is rather disturbing reading as well).
However, while there is no doubt that British trade protectionism did harm Indian industrial activity (which was comparable with manufacturing in the UK in the 18th century), this does not prove that this measure benefited the UK as a whole (as opposed to the industrialists who did benefit from this mercantilism).
Actually, the "great divergence" is one of the big puzzles in economic history, and there are numerous alternative explanations of why the industrial revolution took off in the United Kingdom, none of which gives a major role to colonialism: the rule of the law and the protection of private property rights, the competition between states in a politically fragmented continent, a general attitude of intellectual openness, tolerance and curiosity. There exist several excellent book length discussions of those alternative explanations, but Piketty pays barely any attention to those alternative accounts (see for instance https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... , https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... and https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/2... ).
A similar criticism can be levied against his discussion of tax regimes in the post-war Western world. Piketty rightly points out that marginal tax rates in several Western countries were very high in the aftermath of the Second World War, and that this didn't prevent those countries for growing extremely fast in those periods. While Piketty does not claim that those high marginal tax rates caused high growth (although he does little to discourage readers from inferring this), he emphasizes repeatedly that this experience showed that steeply increasing marginal rates are compatible with high growth.
But this of course begs the question. The relevant question is whether growth could have been higher with a less progressive tax system. This review is not the place to answer this question (which falls outside my field of specialty anyway), but it is too easy to just dismiss the move away from high marginal rates in the 1980s as being purely ideological. The reality is that there is an extensive academic literature on the incentive effects of high marginal rates. Rather than addressing this literature and explaining why he thinks it is misguided to think that high marginal taxes discourage work and saving, Piketty barely mentions it (seriously, can you discuss taxation without even mentioning Martin Feldstein?).
Arguably the most bizarre claim hidden in the book is probably that, since the 1980s, we have moved to a deregulated world. While it is true that some previously heavily regulated sectors have indeed been liberalised, the reality is of course that economic activity remains subject to numerous forms of government intervention, ranging from environmental and occupational safety regulations to anti-discrimination legislation. Note that I am not claiming here that those regulations are not justified, far from it. My point is merely that financial deregulation and the international mobility of capital do not mean we have come back to the nightwatchman states of the 19th century.
Next to the historical analyses, Piketty also provides a series of policy proposals of his own, including a strongly progressive wealth tax and a fundamental reform of European integration. One may agree or not with this, but his arguments are original and well thought through; Piketty anticipates most possible objections and provides detailed answers. Whether these answers are always convincing, is up to the reader to decide.
This being said, while my criticisms are not minor points, they should not refrain anyone from reading this extremely stimulating book. As Nozick once said about Rawls, whether you agree with him or not, it has become impossible to discuss inequality while ignoring Picketty.
However, I would recommend to also read a recent briefing in The Economist https://www.economist.com/briefing/20... , which tackles the fundamental theme in Piketty's work: that inequality (and especially inequality of wealth) is inexorably increasing through time. Recent scholarship has shown that there are several measurement issues with the data, and that alternative approaches yield quite different outcomes fro some (but not all) indicators of inequality.
This is not to downplay the contribution of Piketty. Actually, one of his great merits as a researcher has been the use of novel data sources to measure inequality. It is not surprising, therefore, that more recent work finds that there room for further improvement.
It is unlikely that this will be the last word on the topic of inequality. But the critical reader should be careful in drawing too far reaching conclusions on a topic that we have justed started exploring.
Profile Image for Henk.
797 reviews
December 11, 2021
Monumental in size, scope and rigour in respect to historical research.
As the author intends, this is a thought provoking piece of work, that makes one reflect hard of the current neoliberal economic order and past developments, if sometimes in a rather repetitive manner over its 1.100 plus pages

Trade and finance then become what they always should have been: means in the service to higher ends.

Despite having read through the entirety of Capital and Ideology, it’s still unclear to me what the maximum equality and taxation is. I mean the whole Chicago school of economics can’t have been completely wrong that more taxes have some kind of impact on economic activity. The argument that the growth was fine in the period of high taxes after World War II can’t be seen without the rebuilding and the demographic dividend also applicable to that period.
Still Thomas Piketty his work is both thorough and thought provoking, starting off with a 60 page preface.
The book is filled with interesting (at least I find it interesting as someone with an economics background) facts, like: global per person income only increasing at a compounded annual rate of 0,8% per year in the last three centuries, proving that GDP growth targets of 5% are not necessarily needed to achieve progress in living conditions.

Some per chapter observations and highlights are included below:

Chapter 1 through 3
In this section Piketty starts of with explaining what the "tri-functional" ordening of society with clergy (educated, administrative and giving purpose), nobility (military and safety) and the third estate (general populace who produces and serves) means.
In Europe the clergy needed to replenish itself from the other classes due to celibacy and leading to upward mobility.

In the late ancien regime the clergy formed roughly 1.5% of the population and the nobility 2%
The exemption of royal tax led to a squeeze from the monarchy on the definition of nobility, and leading to a decrease of the size of this class in the 18th century.
And a bloated elite ceases to be an elite.

Ecclesiastical property dropping much more sharply than the nobility’s share after 1789, from the church owning around 15% of the agriculture land in France in the 17th century and around 24% of agricultural output, excluding the tithe. In Spain in the same period this was 24% of the land and in Christian Ethiopia 30%.
All non-profits currently owning 6% of the economy in the current US and 1% in France and 3% in Japan in comparison.

Stigmatising adoption and marriage of widows by the Church to get more donations from the faithful.
Catholic bans on overly high interest as a central bank interest rate setting mechanism avant le lettre.

Chapter 4
Inequality actually rising in France after the revolution, especially during the Belle Epoque
The bottom 50% of France only growing from 3% ownership of wealth to 5% in two centuries and 60% of Parisians dying without an inheritance between 1800 and 1914.

Only the first 1% of real estate owners being able to vote under the property requirements on representation after the ascension of Napoleon III.

France being one of the last Western countries to adopt a progressive income tax, only due to fiscal pressures of World War I.

Chapter 5
In 1880 80% of land in the UK was owned by 7.000 noble families.
Countries as Sweden, UK and France all having small elite noble classes of 1% with large fortunes and more recently formed countries as Poland, Croatia and Spain (due to the reconquista) warrior noble classes of 5% to 8%.
65% of the House of Commons being from the nobility, that only encompassed 1% of the population in the 19th century. In 1820 only 5% of adult males could vote based on property requirements, increasing to 14% in the 1840’s.
92% of wealth concentrated in the top 10% of the UK in 1914.

Chapter 6 and 7
20 million people estimated to have been enslaved in the Euro-American transatlantic slave trade, on an estimated population of sub-saharan Africa of between 40 and 60 million

The slavery abolishment act of the UK granting GBP 20 million to 4.000 slave owners, around 5% of the annual budget or equivalent to €120 billion in 2018 terms and 10 years of educational spending.
No compensation for slaves.

Haiti needed to pay the modern day equivalent of 40 billion to France, or 300% of its GDP, compensation for the 5% slave owners of the island.

The slaves of the South in terms of market value being the highest “asset” class and encompassing 100% of US GDP at the eve of the civil war.
The value per young and healthy slave ranging between €320k and €360k in modern capital power terms.

Four times higher military costs than developmental cost for France’s non-Metropole regions in 1950.
In Algeria 40 times more educational costs were spend on colonial children than on the natives.
4-5% of GDP added by colonial empires to the colonisers. 5% (France) to 8% (UK) of national income coming from colonial holdings in the era after 1850 till 1914.

The percentage of blacks in the the top 10% wealthiest in South Africa actually dropped between 2000 and 2020, with over 70% of the richest South Africans still being white (forming only 10% of the total population)

Chapter 8
Brahman (6%) and historic warrior classes (4%) being stable in the censuses of 1871 till 2014 in India. Brahman forming 3% of some state populations but 70% of university attendees
21% to 25% of the population being Dalit (untouchable castes).

Chapter 9
Qing dynasty always running a balanced budget as opposed to the European states in the 17th century (owning to not having an indigenous banking sector).
Countries running regular 100% to 200% debt of GDP in the 17th to 19th century due to wars, giving rise to banking and insurance (for maritime trade) in especially London.

Protectionism and boycots from European powers leading India and China falling behind, with a 100% import duty levied on Indian fabrics and 20% extra import duties on goods imported on Indian produced ships by the UK.

Daimyo’s forming 5/6% of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1720 while the shinto and Buddhist priests formed 1.5% of the society.
Burakuma, outcast, forming 2% to 5% of society, comparable to the fraction of untouchables in India.

China Ming and Qing only taxing populations at 2/3% of GDP, compared to 10% in Europe in the 17/18th century, leading to less scope for the state to reform and mount defences against the encroaching Europeans.

Chapter 10
In 1945-1948 inflation in France was four year in a row 50%, melting the state debt of the war away.
Franco Prussian war leading to 30% of GDP being paid to Germany in the 19th century, with the treaty of Versailles levying 350% of German GDP, leading to interest being already almost 50% of national tax income.
The population of France being 50% larger than Germany in 1800 versus a complete reversal in 1914, with Germany’s population growing by 1 million per year and France’s population stagnant.

Chapter 11
90% of white children being schooled in the US in the 1840, compared to 20% in Europe.
Drops in progressive taxation in the UK and US correlate near perfect with skyrocketing executive pay.

Primary inequality (e.g. before tax) widening since 1980’s while the impact of distributions remaining the same.
Public spending on education stalling since 1980 in the developed world while tertiary education enrollment boomed, leading to less and less money available to each (average) student.

Strongly progressive taxes applied to high incomes not being linked to lower growth in GDP, as the 1950-1980 boom showed. Slowing educational spending seems linked to slowing economic growth.
EU countries dropping the corporate tax rates the most during the EU formation process.
In Mexico 95% of agricultural land was owned in 1911 by 1% of the population.

Chapter 12
Flat income tax of 13% in Russia after Communism; same rate for 1.000 or 1 billion Rubbles.
Russian billionaires owning 40% of national income, 4 times as high as in the US or China (and many times above the EU level).

Despite 10% of GDP trade balance surpluses for over 25 years between 1990 and mid 2010’s not accruing in Russia, but put into tax havens.

Negative public assets when public debt is deducted for the major Western countries in 2017.
30% share of CCP in Chinese economy and Hong Kong being the only capitalist society that became more economically unequal after joining a communist system.

The inequality between the whole of the EU, including post-communist countries, being more limited than that within the US.

The EU structural fund transfers to Eastern European countries being eclipsed by profit accruing to Western European investors/companies on an annual basis.

Chapter 13
Poorest countries having decreased tax uptake of GDP between 1980 and the 2000’s, from 16% to 14% due to custom duties abolishment, instigated by amongst other things WTO requirements.
While rich countries increased their intake from 30% to 40% in the same period (which I do find confusing, since the corporate tax rate decreased and income taxes as well since the 1980's?).

6-7% returns still possible for the richest, while returns are almost nil for small investors due to economic policy from the ECB.

Political deadlock and polarization paralyzing the potential to address problems by governments, embedding the status quo.

Chapter 14
Electoral polarization based on income, wealth and education, with higher education moving from right to more left wing parties.

Even with a plethora of control variables for age, religion or sex this correlation stands in both the UK, US and France, leading to something Piketty calls the Brahman Left and the Merchant Right, two elites fighting each other for power in the modern day economy.
Both camps aligned to globalization, with a third class of average citizens being left behind.

The vote turnout difference between the 50% most favored classes (in terms of education, wealth and income) growing from nearly zero to 12% to 20% in France after the 2000’s.

France investing 3 times as much per child in the education of the top 10% of the population than for the 50% of the least privileged population.

Egalitarian/inegalitarian and natitivist/international as new axises dividing the electorate.

This is definitely the most French chapter.

Chapter 15
The 38 most selective universities of the US having more students from the first 1% of the population than students from the 60% of the population at the bottom of the wealth distribution.

Anti-elitist recoil being driven from a growing sense of stagnation for normal workers.

Besides 11 of the first 15 American presidents being slaveholders the fact is that if only whites would have voted no Democratic president would have been elected in the last 50 years (e.g. after the New Deal of Roosevelt era). Democrats being more wealthy, diverse and higher educated, an almost 100% inverse to the position the two parties had 25 years ago.

Chapter 16
ECB money printing creating a lack of incentives to raise taxes and cooperate to close loopholes by governments.

Trump his corporate income tax changes leading to a 50% reduction of this tax in the national budget.

The envisioned superseding of the EU by a federalist union with an own budget and pan-European parliamentary assembly seems especially fantastical, especially when the elite managing such an union would be the same as the people who agreed to the tax race towards the bottom.

The India case, were lower class Hindu’s and minorities like Muslims vote similarly shows that nativism is not tied to income class.

The classist versus the nativist split of the electorate, with the latter (who belongs to society) precluding any discussion of the former (how should society be structured ideally)

Chapter 17
Maximize minimal wellbeing through an universal capital endowment of 60% of adult wealth financed through higher, progressive wealth, inheritance and income taxes and hence making ownership more transient. Empowerment of workers through representation in the boards of companies.

A decentralized socialism, as opposed to the central state led communism.

Phasing out the regressive VAT (which burdens lower household income much more than higher incomes).

The capital endowment would make money available earlier to people, hence reinvigorating the economy.

Nationalise custodian banks to facilitate taxation of financial assets and income.

Basic income costing only 5% of GDP?

Nation states are restricted in their taxation sovereignty due to the current system, that forces a race to the bottom.

To begin discussion, not to end it.
Profile Image for Michael.
657 reviews968 followers
May 19, 2020
Bailed, halfway through the third part. Piketty’s love of stats, charts, and graphs shines in this follow-up to his hit 2013 release Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which was one of the last decade’s most influential books and far more cohesive. Here, drawing upon research into many economic databases, he tries to do a lot at once: recount the history of inequality across European and colonized, pre-capitalist and modern, societies; explain the rise of the middle class in the wake of WWII; argue for progressive taxation and democratic socialism as means to reverse the concentration of wealth and income into the hands of the world elite. No one part’s much developed and all are scattered, jammed with hastily presented facts. His take on global history’s general and Francocentric, and in discussing the importance of redistributing wealth, he rehashes the conclusions of Capital.
Profile Image for Richard Derus.
2,855 reviews1,891 followers
Want to read
June 27, 2020
Reading this behemoth is not easy...physically for me, psychically for more reactionary folk...but this article https://www.publicbooks.org/ideas-alo... provides an interesting précis of the book's developing themes. Author Katharina Pistor makes the clearest possible statement of the central problem we-the-people face in wresting control of the future away from toxic right-wing radicals:
Still, for Piketty, as for many progressives, a state that is capable of social ordering and of redistributing private wealth is at the very center of their reform strategies. They assume something that would have to be first (re-)created for their ideas to work.

We're arguing about inanities like statues when the occupant of the very topmost office in the US, until recently the most powerful country on Earth, is dedicated to crashing the very structure we most urgently need to fix the disaster unfolding around us.

PS Dear Translator Goldhammer,
You are AMAZING and gifted and under-famous. This isn't fluffy stuff...Piketty is an intellectual before he's a writer...and you manage to convey a sense of arched eyebrows and barely concealed moués of distaste without vitiating his points. Gobsmacked at the chops this takes.
Profile Image for Mehrsa.
2,234 reviews3,663 followers
July 4, 2020
I feel like I should get a cookie or a medal for finishing this MASSIVE book. Especially because some parts of it were so dry! He really does not need to go into so much detail to make his point, which is that ideology has been used in various countries across time to uphold systems of inequality. The details and the history were great and I am here for the thesis, but we really do not need to know so many details.
Profile Image for P.E..
718 reviews496 followers
June 3, 2020
D'une histoire comparée des idéologies inégalitaires à une théorie de la société juste.

Ce livre part de l'histoire institutionnelle de nombreux pays pour étudier la définition de la propriété, les origines et les ressorts des inégalités d'aujourd'hui et de leurs justifications, puis formuler des alternatives possibles.

Attrapé par hasard dans le rayon livres d'un supermarché du coin quelque temps après l'annonce du confinement, cette lecture est certainement l'un des meilleurs investissements que j'aie pu faire de cette saison de l'étrange.

1. Les points forts :

- La clarté de l'auteur sur les questions d'histoire des institutions politiques et économiques de pays qui me sont peu familiers, comme les BRICS, la Suède ou le Japon. Adopter une perspective historique sur les questions de la propriété et de l'inégalité juste me paraît essentiel.

- Les données chiffrées et établies dans le temps dispensées tout au long du livre (données fiscales comme la répartition de la propriété en déciles, la composition des portefeuilles privés, les écarts de revenus dans le temps, le découpage des différents taux d'imposition ; données d'enquêtes post-électorales comme les intentions de vote suivant le revenu, la confession religieuse...)

- L'ambition, la hauteur de vue et l'honnêteté intellectuelle de l'ensemble.

2. Les points faibles :

Prévoyez du temps si vous avez l'intention de le lire ! Ça n'a pas vocation à servir de modèle, mais commencé le 12/04/20, je viens de le boucler aujourd'hui, le 10/05/20. Pour vous donner une idée :)


Des réserves :
Il me manque une corrélation logique entre fiscalité progressive et croissance économique (des années 50 à 80 par exemple). À défaut, je ne peux pas évaluer et comparer correctement le rôle de la politique fiscale dans une situation de croissance économique par rapport à d'autres éléments : marché de l'emploi, relance de l'économie par l'offre ET la demande, conjoncture favorable aux grands travaux publics et privés, politique étrangère...

Bien sûr, ma réserve tient aussi bien pour les causes de récessions, dépressions ou crises économiques : rôle des chocs pétroliers de 1973 et 1979 ? Rôle des banques centrales ? Rôle des politiques néo-libérales ?.

Il en est peut-être question dans les documents, sources et séries de l'annexe technique sur le site de Piketty, mais jusqu'à consultation de l'annexe ou démonstration du contraire, je maintiens cette réserve et je mets une étoile de côté.

Pour les gens que ça tenterait de vérifier :


Ah, et un peu de redites sur la fin, à partir du dernier quart surtout.



3. Table des matières


I.1. Sociétés ternaires : L'inégalité trifonctionnelle
I.2. Sociétés d'ordre européennes : pouvoir et propriété
I.3. L'invention des sociétés de propriétaires
I.4. Les sociétés de propriétaires : le cas de la France
I.5. Les sociétés de propriétaires : trajectoires européennes


II.1. Les sociétés esclavagistes : l'inégalité extrême
II.2. Les sociétés coloniales : diversité et domination
II.3. Sociétés ternaires et colonisation - Le cas de l'Inde
II.4. Sociétés ternaires et colonialisme : trajectoires eurasiatiques


III.1. La crise des sociétés de propriétaires
III.2. Les sociétés sociales-démocrates : l'égalité inachevée
III.3. Les sociétés communistes et postcommunistes
III.4. L'hypercapitalisme : entre modernité et archaïsme


IV.1. La frontière et la propriété : la construction de l'égalité
IV.2. Gauche brahmane : les nouveaux clivages euro-américains
IV.3. Social-nativisme : le piège identitaire postcolonial
IV.4. Éléments pour un socialisme participatif au XXIe siècle.


4. Suggestions de lecture :

Essais et histoires générales :

Le travail - Une sociologie contemporaine
Le crépuscule de l'occident - Chronique de la décadence
Retour au meilleur des mondes

A People's History of the United States
La création des identités nationales. Europe, XVIIIe-XXe siècle
L'URSS. De la révolution à la mort de Staline (1917-1953)
Histoire de la décolonisation au XXème siècle
L'histoire De La Réunion, Volume 1: Des Origines à 1848

Témoignages :

Oeuvres complètes
Le premier document de ce recueil est une enquête approfondie d'Albert Londres sur le bagne de Cayenne, qui a conduit à la réforme, puis à terme à l'abolition du bagne en 1937.

Istanbul: Souvenirs D'une Ville
Une histoire d'Istanbul entremêlée de passages autobiographiques d'Orhan Pamuk, qui l'a connue et habitée alors qu'elle avait cessé d'être capitale d'Empire.

Sur les chemins noirs
Le tour de la France par deux enfants d'aujourd'hui

Fictions :

- Sur le monde du travail :
The Jungle

- Sur le propriétarisme et les colonies :
Le Père Goriot
Heart of Darkness
Crime and Punishment
Voyage au bout de la nuit
La condition humaine
Earthly Powers

- Sur les dangers de la financiarisation sans encastrement social et/ou écologique :
Berlin Alexanderplatz
Goodbye to Berlin
Le bleu du ciel
Habiter en lutte : Zad de Notre-Dame-des-Landes. 40 ans de résistance
Autopsie d'un déni démocratique: Aéroport Notre-Dame-des-Landes

- Sur le néolibéralisme économique et ses formes :
Les choses
La carte et le territoire
99 francs
Вечный хлеб
Рассказы о Родине

- Dérives identitaires :
Tous à Zanzibar

- Récits utopiques et dystopiques :
Nous autres
Le meilleur des mondes
Fight Club
American Psycho

Photographie :
Urbex Europe

Autres Perspectives :
L'Avenir en commun. Le programme de la France insoumise et son candidat
Sagesses Barbares
L'Histoire Revisitee: Panorama de L'Uchronie Sous Toutes Ses Formes

Conférences et interviews de Franck Lepage.
Conférences et interviews d'Aurélien Barrau.
Profile Image for Daniel KML.
46 reviews14 followers
November 7, 2019
This is an impressive work and comparable in quality of research and ambition to Piketty’s previous work - Capital in the 21st Century. Its political impact will probably be even greater than his last book and it will shape many discussions on the global left for the years to come.

While Piketty, in his previous book, leveraged an astounding amount of research to bring forth one big bold idea (i.e., "r>g" as driver of inequality and one of the central contradictions of capitalism), he now combines lots of new sources of data with the political history of societies (from colonial to present times in Americas, Europe and Asia) to assert that the history of societies is actually made by the clash of big ideas, and that these ideologies, many times used to justify inequalities, are in constant conflict and perpetual renewal.

According to him, we should keep pushing this fight of ideas, because it is a fight that is built on knowledge and experience sharing, and based on mutual respect and democratic deliberation, and that its ultimate outcome is to have a fairer society - in Piketty’s case, a society based on participatory-socialism with transnational federal governance striving for a less unequal society via a progressive tax on revenues, property and succession, and new modes of property ownership (e.g., labor representatives with voting rights in corporate boards). He also asserts that if we fail to make these changes, as societies get more and more unequal, governments will be dominated by fiscal competition (e.g., diminishing the size of the State and the support structure for those left behind) and identity conflicts (e.g., the recent wave of anti-immigration or anti-globalization movements).

Piketty has developed a remarkable oeuvre, with many details and discussions hard to summarize here (e.g., his diagnosis of the ever-changing dynamics of the left-right party system and voters profile, and how left parties have lost the working classes and become the party of intellectuals, can have many interesting derivations). The expansion of his frame of analysis to new geographies (other than France, UK and USA) such as India, Brazil and post-communist countries greatly enriches his arguments and findings.

This is a book that both fits current political discussions and serves as basis for longer-term reflections on society. Piketty’s recommendations at the end of the book are conceptually consistent and open for debate and improvement - but, in my opinion, very challenging to implement. My pessimistic side makes me believe that, given current trends on inequality and political discourse, we will probably see a new 1st World War or another major global disruption emerging in our apparent peaceful times. Only then, when facing post-mortem ruins, we might start thinking again as a whole society on how to mobilize international movements to strive for greater fairness, moving beyond market fundamentalism and achieving maybe what Piketty calls participatory-socialism at a world-level basis.

I believe that although very long (and sometimes redundant), reading this work can be very rewarding and elucidating. It opens the doors for a new range of discussions and demonstrates that multiple trajectories are possible for the way we organize our society (and resources).
Profile Image for Marks54.
1,305 reviews1,149 followers
September 28, 2020
So, you are locked up at home and strongly encouraged/ordered to go nowhere for the foreseeable future. What should you be reading? To keep plowing through one’s normal queue seems questionable - these are not normal times and what is going to be waiting at the end when we eventually go back to normal? There is only so much to watch on Netflix.

So I started in on ‘Capital and Ideology’ by Thomas Piketty. This was officially out in early March and I had been hoping to have the time to work through it. Then March unfolded and I had plenty of time. This is a very good book. It is not as good as Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” but I did not expect that it would be. It is well worth the effort, but effort is required - this book is over a thousand pages long and there are lots of numbers and charts and figures (not that many equations, however).

So what’s the deal? In Capital in the 21st Century (2013), Piketty documented the huge growth in the developed world of significant inequality in earnings and wealth. He also argued strongly about the deleterious consequences of this inequality and the likelihood of it becoming a chronic societal problem unless something was done about it. To this end, he proposed his hypothesis that inequality was likely to be maintained and even grow in a situation where the rate of return after taxes on invested capital (r) was larger than the rate of economic growth (g). When r > g, the result would be a diversion of investment capital away from the economy and towards higher return targets, leading to economic stagnation and trapping large portions of society in marginal low growth situations that were both harmful and unfair. Piketty’s argument here is not only an economic argument, but also a normative argument for keeping an unfair and harmful socio-economic system from solidifying.

This is barely a thumbnail sketch and I encourage anyone interested to read the book - seriously.

So what about “Capital and Ideology”? The idea here is to address general issues about how to mitigate the growth of inequality and bring about a political and economic system that brings more welfare to more people by limiting the growth of extreme inequality of income and wealth. He calls this outcome “participatory socialism” but what is in a name anyway? He is arguing for some variant of the social democracy situation that was common among western economies between 1945 and 1980 or so, before a pattern set in where western economies seriously cut income and wealth tax rates and facilitated the growth of a degree of economic inequality not seen since the Belle Epoch in Europe or the roaring twenties in the US.

So why is a thousand pages needed to make the case? Well, Piketty is not a Marxist and not a determinist. He is also not one of those economists who describes a condition and then walks away without identifying what to do about it. He also recognizes that socio-political systems come in a variety of shapes and sizes and that whatever systems develop for a country is of necessity embedded in the cultural and historical context of that country. There needs to be an IDEOLOGY, which in this book seems to be the generally accepted story adopted in a country to explain the workings of the political and economic system, including rules for property, trade, citizenship, education, and the like.

Piketty does not attempt to dictate one system but rather to enumerate the range of options available to choose from in addressing issues of inequality. To do this, he embarks on a jaw dropping survey of the economic trail of inequality regimes in Europe, Asia, North America, and the colonial (and post-colonial) world from the Middle Ages up until the 2010s. This gets the reader to about page 750 or so.

In the last quarter of the book, Piketty review the recent histories of inequality and highlights some common developments across the West. He also provides insightful summaries of post-colonial developments in India and China. This leads into his key arguments about how to proceed.

So the book is an answer to the question of “So what? What do I do about it?”that one could raise after the 2013 book. To reduce chronic inequality and keep it reduced, what needs to be done? Piketty provides plenty of caveats to his proposed solutions and wants to provide a general outline rather than go into the weeds of implementation. Fair enough, but even on a sympathetic reading, the weeds involved in making changes regarding income and wealth inequality remain and are daunting.

Overall, he did as well as he could be expected to do. His solutions are reasonably practical and he has devoted much thought to this. The knowledge and perspective he displays in the book are nothing less than staggering. Even if you disagree with the general direction of state involvement, this is a good book to encounter and do battle with.

What’s the catch? Why just four stars?

First, I have learned to be sceptical of academics trying to present comprehensive histories (counting all the bodies ...). The problem is that the world is highly complex and academia has grown highly specialized. Nearly every topic raised by Piketty in the book has been considered by whole sub-industries of scholars, often in multiple disciplines. He knows this. While I am willing to provide a considerable benefit of the doubt, the more I read generally the more suspicious I grow of the threat of overstretch. I know what I do not know, but I do not know what Piketty does not know. This seems to be a well done project but I will be following the critical literature as it develops. By the way, economists do not generally write huge books like this (that are not textbooks) which is another reason to be careful. They tend much more toward complex and focused articles.

Second, I am left hungry for a more developed sense of agency in the book. When the entire global economic system has developed in one direction since the 1980s, who is the actor who will turn that development around? There are lots of smart academics and policy wonks on all sides, so how does effective political power get mobilized within and between nations to bring this about. Sure, the financial crisis after 2008 has made hyper-capitalism less attractive. Sure, the economic disruptions of the current crisis will prod thinking about inequality and the disadvantaged. But how do any of these programs get put into practice? A few more hints would have helped. Without this, I am left wondering whether the solutions suggested are more examples of “redefining the problem in the form of a solution” than a reasonable solution.

Third, there is really a lot of stuff to go through, especially the data tables. I have to set out and take a further look and see how they link with the general story.

These are my first reactions. There will be more before long.
Profile Image for Zack.
42 reviews
March 23, 2020
It was amazing. Thomas Piketty explains in vivid details how throughout history that everybody makes excuses to keep the poor...poor, and the rich...rich. He calls for an end to the Billionaire Class, the fact that they need to pay their fair share. For example, a few Billionaires in the USA make more money than the bottom half of America combined. Millions of Americans are barely getting by, paycheck by paycheck, while these guys get incredibly rich. He asks for a fair tax on the super-rich.
Profile Image for J.
730 reviews425 followers
April 14, 2020
Thomas Piketty’s previous book, Capital in the 21st Century, was (for this reader) one of the most important books of our age. In it, he marshaled a staggering array of quantitative and qualitative data to show how economic inequality developed and changed in Western Europe and the United states over the past ~250 years.

That book’s central conclusion: that economic inequality in our time is growing unabated towards levels not seen since the gilded age, is a powerful, dire forecast. All the more so because of how eloquent and relentlessly his data proved it. It was a rigorous, erudite work that peeled back the lid on economic behavior in a way that was clinical, yet still all-encompassing. I think it’s nearly impossible to finish that book and not feel shaken by it. Even if you are already pre-disposed to progressive views on economics, Piketty’s assessment was a haymaker about one of the biggest unspoken trends in our world.

His newest, massive 1000+ page book, Capital and Ideology has an even loftier goal. Namely: to unravel the global history of economic inequality in terms of politics, sociology, and history.

Piketty is a highly formidable statistician, researcher and writer. But this is simply too much to unpack in a single book with so large a scope. In his desire to survey seemingly everything, the book tends to lose the focus and coherence that made his previous work so powerful.

The enthusiasm he gives to recondite subjects, such as medieval taxation reform, employee ownership rules in germanic companies, Indian Caste Quotas, Caribbean debt forgiveness, ad infinitum... are all commendable and brilliantly researched. They each deserve a separate book to really investigate, instead of the world-spanning gloss they receive here.

To be sure, Capital and Ideology does contain a few statistical bombshells. A chapter showing that political parties of all ideologies across virtually all countries are totally abandoning the less well off in favor of catering to different segments of the elite, manages to be utterly alarming for even this jaded, cynical reader. But even those sorts of powerful analyses are all too easily lost in the rush to encompass so much.

The book’s final sections, in which he attempts to use this deluge of a historical investigation to flesh out actionable policies to help reduce inequality is coherent, principled and profoundly ambitious. Many people will no doubt assail the sorts of massive, world-changing measures he advocates for.

But these proposals, as unprecedented as they might seem, are worth any serious person’s consideration. If there is one thing Piketty does succeed at in this book's massive examination, it's in showing that governments have, on numerous occasions in the past, taken powerful actions to help make their societies more equitable. As the Covid-19 pandemic, which as of this writing is still ravaging around the world has proven, seemingly lethargic nations can change quickly and powerfully, provided there is the will to do so.

While Capital and Ideology certainly ‘sticks the landing’ it is not, in my view, a major success. Thomas Piketty for all of his skill has bitten off more than he, or really anyone, can chew. If you want to encounter his thinking at its strongest and most focused, read Capital in the 21st Century, which is still in my view, one of if not the defining books of our time.
Profile Image for Lisa.
327 reviews9 followers
October 28, 2020
I finished it!! 1,000 pages of economic history and I finished it! It took me months but it was totally worth it. It reads like a textbook, but like a well written text book.
Profile Image for Markus.
188 reviews63 followers
September 22, 2020
Pünktlich zum Erscheinen des neuen Piketty Anfang des Jahres 2020 konnte man in sog. Qualitätszeitungen schon die ersten Besprechungen lesen. "Piketty fordert 120.000 Euro Startkapital für jeden Jungbürger" oder "Piketty fordert 90% Steuer für Reiche" oder so ähnlich lauteten die Schlagzeilen.

Gut ein halbes Jahr später habe ich den Wälzer fertig gelesen, langsam und gründlich, jeden Tag ein paar Seiten. Und eines sei gleich vorausgeschickt: Piketty fordert gar nichts.

Piketty legt erstmals eine umfassende Geschichte der Ungleichheit vor. In 4 Teilen und 16 Kapiteln analysiert er akribisch, wie sich Ungleichheit im Laufe der Zeit und quer durch die Geografie entwickelt und verändert hat. Er untersucht die Verhältnisse in den alten trifunktionalen Gesellschaften (Adel-Klerus-Bauer), den Eigentümergesellschaften des 18. und 19. Jahrhunderts und den Sklaven- und Kolonialgesellschaften, die Situation in China, Indien, Brasilien und im Nahen Osten, den Wandel zu Sozialdemokratie und zum Kommunismus bis hin zum globalen Hyperkapitalismus der Gegenwart. Das Fundament seiner Untersuchungen sind die Zahlen und Daten, die er und sein Team über Jahre in mühsamer Kleinarbeit zusammengetragen haben. Allein diese Arbeit ist beeindruckend.

[Ungleichheit kann man messen. Die Balken bilden den Anteil der 10% am besten Verdienendsten am Gesamteinkommen ab. Die enormen Unterschiede zeigen, dass hier nichts "natürlich" ist.]

Im Kern geht es darum, dass Ungleichheiten zwischen verschiedenen sozialen Gruppen, Ständen, Klassen, Kasten usw. egal in welcher Zeit und in welchem Land nie deterministisch entstanden oder vorgegeben sind, sondern von jeder Gesellschaft im Kontext einer ideologischen Rechtfertigung begründet werden müssen. Dass die süßesten Früchte nur den großen Tieren zustehen, liegt eben nicht nur daran, dass die Tiere groß sind: https://youtu.be/BdgLv9hxKwA ;-)

Gerade wurde ich in der FAZ belehrt, dass Ungleichheit quasi ein Naturgesetz sei: Nicht alle können gleich sein.
Es ist besonders hinterhältig, wenn auf Grund natürlicher Unterschiede auch ungleiche Behandlung als "natürlich" begründet wird. Früher hat der liebe Gott alles so eingerichtet, oder die Geburt hat es bestimmt, und heute soll es die Natur sein, die in einem gnadenlosen Wettbewerb den Stärkeren, Schnelleren oder Besseren belohnt. In diesem Sinn entwickelt jede Zeit ihre eigenen Erzählungen zur Rechtfertigung ihrer Ungleichheiten. Piketty deckt mit Hilfe seiner Zahlen und Diagramme z.B. schonungslos die Lüge der modernen Meritokratie auf.

Neben der Historie sind die heutigen Verhältnisse und die Analyse der modernen postkapitalistischen Ideologie, die als konservative Revolution mit Reagan und Thatcher in den 80er Jahren losbrach, und die gerade durch das Scheitern des Kommunismus ihre vermeintliche Bestätigung erhielt, natürlich ganz besonders interessant. Pikettys Befund über die Deregulierung der Kapitalströme könnte entlarvender nicht sein: Diese erzeugt einen völlig kontraproduktiven, weil zu einer Verschuldungsspirale führenden Steuerwettbewerb der Nationalstaaten. Und ganz anders als die vollmundigen Bekenntnisse gegen Korruption und Steuerflucht ist auf Grund dieses Wettbewerbs keiner bereit, die Grundvoraussetzung für ihre Bekämpfung, nämlich eine länderübergreifende Datenbasis der Kapitalströme zu schaffen. Trotz der digitalen Entwicklung wird es selbst für die Forscher rund um Piketty zunehmend schwieriger, an valide Daten zu Eigentum und Geldfluss zu kommen! Die Finanzmisere und zahlreiche andere Entwicklungen, wie die Verwerfungen der klassischen Parteienlandschaft, ein neu entstehendes Bildungsgefälle, die demografische Veränderung der Sozialdemokratie zu Akademikerparteien und die neue Bruchlinien zwischen den Ideologien befördern das Erstarken von identitären und nationalistischen Strömungen.

Geschichte unter dem Aspekt der Ungleichheitsregime zu sehen und die inneren Zusammenhänge aufzuzeigen ist das Hauptanliegen des Buches. Dieses ist, wie ich finde, ganz ausgezeichnet gelungen. Im Vergleich zum ersten Buch, das recht datenlastig ist, hat sich Piketty in dieser Hinsicht zurückgenommen. Mich persönlich stören Statistik und Zahlen nicht, ganz im Gegenteil, ich kann mir aber gut vorstellen, dass der vorliegende Band für diesbezüglich weniger ambitionierte Leser etwas verdaulicher ist.

Richtig spannend wurde es oft bei den Details, ich erfuhr zahlreiche Fakten, von denen ich keine Ahnung hatte und die mich schon erstaunten. So lernte ich z.B., dass Mitte des 19. Jahrhunderts, als Briten und Franzosen die Sklaverei abschafften, man es als völlig selbstverständlich ansah, dass die Sklavenbesitzer großzügig für ihr verlorenes "Eigentum" entschädigt wurden, während an eine Entschädigung für die Sklaven niemand auch nur dachte. Nur in den USA verhinderte der Bürgerkrieg die Entschädigungszahlungen. Auch die Geschichte von Haiti ist gerade in den Details empörend. Frankreich bürdete der jungen unabhängigen Republik 1825 eine Schuldenlast von 150 Mio. Goldfranc als Entschädigung für die Plantagenbesitzer auf. Diese Summe entspricht dem heutigen Gegenwert von 40 Mrd. Euro oder 300% des damaligen haitianischen Nationaleinkommens. Die Summe sollte innerhalb von fünf Jahren bezahlt werden, Haiti sollte sich dafür bei französischen Privatbanken zum Zinssatz von 5% refinanzieren(!). Der Betrag wurde zwar später reduziert, trotzdem erst 1946 ganz getilgt. Armut und Korruption bleiben bis in die Gegenwart der Preis für die Unabhängigkeit.

Ebenfalls interessant fand ich, dass die progressive Einkommensteuer, die heute als selbstverständlich angesehen wird, in den meisten Ländern erst ab etwa 1900 eingeführt wurde, und zwar gegen den langjährigen und geradezu hysterischen Widerstand ihrer Gegner, die das Vorhaben als völlig undurchführbar, absurd und abartig deklassierten, ähnlich wie heutzutage die Forderung nach einem Grundeinkommen.

Erst im letzten und 17. Kapitel präsentiert Piketty Vorschläge für eine gerechtere Ordnung, hin zu einem Sozialföderalismus oder partizipativen Sozialismus. Seine Vorschläge betreffen eine gerechtere Besteuerung und damit eine ausgleichende Verteilung von Eigentum und öffentlichen Ressourcen, und ebenso die Neuorganisation föderalistischer und demokratischer Strukturen. Er betont, dass er diese Vorschläge nur als Diskussionsanstoß oder mögliche Szenarien betrachtet und dass soziale Veränderung immer auf demokratischem Weg debattiert und erarbeitet werden muss. Wichtigste Voraussetzung wäre die Verpflichtung der Staaten zu Transparenz, und - was Europa betrifft - eine Neuorientierung hin zu einer Steuer- und Sozialunion, zu mehr Kooperation statt immer mehr nationalen Wettbewerbs, was eigentlich die logische Grundlage für eine gemeinsame Währung wäre und die schon bekannten Probleme vermeiden würde. Sein Vorschlag zur Gründung einer "europäischen Versammlung" mit einer gemeinsamen Steuerhoheit über einen Teil des Steueraufkommens, aber ohne nennenswerte Transferleistungen zwischen den Staaten ist insofern interessant, da sie ein realistischer Weg für alle an substantieller Veränderung interessierter Staaten wäre, ohne am Einstimmigkeitsprinzip des Rats zu scheitern.

Weitere Informationen und Projekte zum Buch:
Ecole d'Economie Paris / Thomas Piketty:
World Inequality Database:
Manifest für die Demokratisierung Europas:
Profile Image for Andrew.
1,963 reviews675 followers
July 20, 2022
If you're expecting this to be Piketty's Empire Strikes Back after the magisterial Capital in the 21st Century, you're gonna be disappointed. Hell, I was kind of disappointed at times, but if you're not used to thinking about history in terms of ideological regimes (e.g. capitalism vs. feudalism), it's probably going to be pretty enlightening for you. For me, this kind of thinking is my bread and butter, so while I found the evidence he compiled quite interesting -- he has a great way of using a case study to illustrate a larger point -- I already was quite aware of the broader themes. If I'd discovered this when I was much younger, it would have been a life-changer.
Profile Image for Andrew.
655 reviews183 followers
June 23, 2020
Capital and Ideology, by Thomas Piketty, is a magisterial look at inequality and its ideological tolerances in societies throughout history. The book starts with a long examination of the history of inequality touching on numerous subjects; trifunctional societies based on clergy, nobility and peasant are examined thoughtfully due to the influence these societies had on the development of economic and political systems. These class societies were based on principles of stability, keeping each class in its place, and balancing the power of clergy and nobility while suppressing the rights of peasants. These societies were very unequal, with most of a nations wealth being held by the Church and Noble class, with the peasants utilized as serfs or renters on land, with little or no wealth held at all in this third estate. Piketty calls these societies Proprietarian - they built structures around the idea of owning or controlling property, including other humans. Property rights were sacred; ordained by God and King, and most peasants paid overlapping and all encompassing taxes on property they existed on; tithes, corvee labour, and such. Piketty looks at how states in Europe around the time of the French revolution, began to move beyond this system, removing regalian rights from the church and nobility and putting it in the hands of the state. This allowed taxes to become more egalitarian - meaning taxes were collected in a measured and constant way, instead of on an ad hoc basis in trifunctional societies. Furthermore, these discussions on taxes led to the growth of ideas on progressive taxation, and discussions on human rights, fair taxation, and political representaiton.

Piketty goes on to examine historical societies in Eastern Europe, India and China as well. These areas of the world grappled with different and interesting forms of ideology and inequality. Russia was a society that adopted serfdom most harshly. Serfs were tied to the land with little rights to movement and political or human rights. This system was entrenched in later Russian society up to the reforms of the 19th century and the eventual collapse of Russia. Piketty compares Serfdom to Slavery and finds similar aspects and impacts on a nations economies and political systems. In India, especially after the British invasion and independence, the nation has struggled with cultural, caste and religious struggles. Although India is one of the most unequal states in the modern world, in terms of the bottom 90%'s share of income, the state is also a well functioning democracy that struggles with the colonial cast legacy. This has led to interesting and internalized systems of affirmative action - the most stringent in the world in some cases. Even so, glaring poverty is common, and India struggles with issues of tax collection, state capacity, and internal and external security issues that often revolve around identitarian considerations (think modern BJP and Hindu nationalism). China also had a system that was unequal in many ways, but developed different ideologies than Europe or India. The focus here was on state capacity and control over peripheries. China developed a bureaucratic examination system which Piketty compares to the modern US higher education system - similar numbers of participants, and with the ability to buy into specific exam categories or levels - comparable to US legacy students in high end universities.

A discussion on slavery and colonialism follows. These societies were the most unequal in history so far in terms of share of income. Haiti, Brazil, and the Southern US had similar levels of wealth inequality. In the emancipation of slaves, an examination of punitive actions to reward slave owners is had. This was an interesting discussion: in the UK the tax payer reimbursed slave owners through reparation payments - not slaves. In Haiti, France imposed a huge fine through gunboat diplomacy, and it was only waived by the French government in the 1950's. The US was the only slave system that did not reimburse their slave owners due to their loss in the civil war. However, instead they built in a system that separated and reduced the rights of black Americans, setting them in a cycle of wage poverty and near slavery, with much reduced civil rights and extreme prejudices that continue today.

Piketty then examines the birth of our modern neo-proprietarianism and capitalism, from its birth in pre-WWI society. This form of capitalism favoured capitalist classes in most countries- a very small percentage, and utilized labour from the working classes at low wages and with little rights. This form of capitalism led to imperialism and industrialization, with colonies supplying the raw materials for metropolitan growth. These nations were exploitative at their core; wealth transfers to colonies were often negligible and frowned upon - ie. France's Empire in Africa, with policy setting tending to encourage creating colonial budgets within the colony. However locals and natives were not hired often into the colonial administration, and if they were, they were paid at a much smaller rate than their white counterparts. This system collapsed after WWII due to high debt levels, destruction, and growing unrest over political rights and exploitation, leading to the decolonization of the 60's and 70's. High government debt levels encouraged macroeconomic policies that favoured wealth redistribution, inflation, and infrastructure investment, which heavily reduced the debt burden of nations toward their wealthier citizens. This was the most egalitarian time in human history, with progressive taxes set on wealth (up to 90% in the US and UK), the growth of social democracy in the Nordic countries and West Germany, and of course, the competing ideologies of US led social democracy, and USSR led communism.

Piketty examines both systems in detail. Communism failed because it too, led to systems of great inequality. Although shares of income were more evenly distributed than in the Western world, the USSR struggled to compete due to the inefficiencies of total government control over economies, which led to a stifling of innovation, and their overbearing political system, with little freedoms for the average citizen. The Western world, by contrast, explored social democracy. Colonies were shed and investments made in education and wealth redistribution, as well as public infrastructure. States in Europe, like Sweden and Germany, developed strong systems of co-management, improving workers decision making power in firm level bargaining and decision making, and encouraging democratization of work spaces, allowing the average citizen to vote and make decisions about their own incomes - a system that continues (in a reduced fashion) today. The US and UK, by contrast, began to embrace neo-proprietarian ideologies - focusing on shareholder growth over other forms of income distribution. This has led to our modern system of wealth inequality, where the moneyed classes own more than 50% of the wealth in some instances (the US, Middle East, Brazil and India are the most unequal areas of the world - even more so, in some instances, than Russia or China). This wealth inequality is justified as "fair", with ideas about personal property, meritocracy, and lassaiz faire business' as the main justifications. These ideas are proven false, however. The US education system is extremely unequal, from primary upward, with legacy students, donations, and poor education investment being the norm. Hard working individuals are most often passed over by legacy students, who utilize the low tax environment to receive money through their estate, invest it in capital for a high return, and engage in little productive or innovative tasks. Finally, the small government system is also a sham - the US government is massive and uses government policy to set up systems of inequality that favour the wealthy. Large corporations are cushioned with government bailouts in times of crisis, and banking and financial regulations favour financial speculation and adventurism or investments in infrastructure, research, or more stable and equitable investments.

The European system is discussed as well. The European Union lacks teeth in terms of any overarching political, economic, or taxation policies. This system leads to unequal interest rates and distributions of capital. For example, German tax payers pay about 0.2-0.3% of their funds to wealth transfers to Eastern European and Southern European states, while extracting almost 7% of many Eastern European countries GDP through transfers from private firms. This leads to a system where the richer economies grow, while the poorer economies struggle to keep up. It is clear then, why euro-skeptic ideals are growing, both in countries who engage in wealth transfers (Brexit, AFD, etc.) and those who see exploitation from Brussels (Poland, Hungary etc.)

Piketty examines many ideas throughout this massive tome, more than I can really discuss here. The take away for me is the interesting history of inequality regimes, and the way Piketty expertly frames politics in history in terms of economies, inequalities, and ideologies. Piketty engages with social democratic ideas - public ownership of critical infrastructure, high progressive wealth taxes, inheritance taxes, and income taxes, high investment in public education and research, racial and sexual equality, and so on. Piketty is critical of the socialism of the 1970's, due to its engagement with the shift to neo-proprietarian ideology in the 19980's, with exploitative international bodies like the World Bank and IMF, as well as their reluctance to alter the taxation system and promote the benefits of progressive taxation, while focusing on USSR style public takeovers. Piketty looks at the models of Germany and Sweden in particular as beneficial systems - these nations have the lowest level of wealth inequality in the modern world, with systems of co-management and unionization that encourage the average citizen to contribute to democratic decision making systems, as opposed to the US system of UK parliamentary system, with high levels of government control and wealth concentration, declining unionization rates, and low levels of engagement with workers, lower classes, and racial minorities. To be clear, the Swedish or German system are also not ideal, with issues of racism, competition with free market conservative parties, and so on being present.

Piketty also examines other modern systems - China, Russia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and so on. These areas all have differing ideals of wealth inequality - Russia as a oligarchical society, China with its idealized party-managed democracy, and the Middle East as authoritarian petro-states run by billionaires. These systems are all discussed in detail, and show that different ideas have an impact on wealth inequality - China is the most egalitarian of the three, with the Middle East being the least.

All in all, this book is fantastic and epic. It touches on so many subjects in politics, history, economics and sociology that it would be impossible for me to write a more comprehensive review. This book is both an examination of why and how societies develop inequality systems, and ideas top develop more egalitarian ones. Piketty by no means advocates for communist society, where ideally all incomes are equal. He instead looks at major reforms that are needed within our capitalist, liberal systems to create concrete change. This book is not just eurocentric, as the systems of democracy, liberalism, capitalism, and globalization touch all corners of the globe. The challenge, as Piketty points out, is the differences within or between nations and regions due to differing political cultures, histories, ideas, tolerances, and appetites for inequality. Piketty despairs the growth of social nativism in the modern world, and advocates for transnational agreements on taxation, rights, and commerce. Such systems are being experimented with in numerous ways; The EU's loose federation of nation states, the US system of global dominance, the Chinese system of Belt and Road and one party rule, and the federalized, decentralized Indian system, are a small sampling of the many different ways and systems that are being experimented with. These systems change, grow, contract and share with each other, and each one will have a major impact in some form on the future, in terms of how to combat wealth inequality, and the political resilience of systems.

I could say more, but on the last note; this is a book to read for anyone interested in learning how the world works. This is a yearning account of democracy, social justice, environmentalism and so much more, with the idea that changing how we perceive inequality, and asking for, and demanding a better system is an absolute necessity. It goes beyond petty party squabbles in the States to show that issues of inequality transcend a four year election cycle, and can be addressed in so many ways. A brilliant read, and a high recommendation.
Profile Image for Gary  Beauregard Bottomley.
935 reviews556 followers
April 10, 2020
For this book, the author lost sight of his own narrative and muddles his story telling by wandering away from what his real message was meant to be. I really enjoyed his other book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’, and I noticed one of the things I wrote about that book in my notes on it was how the author had an overriding narrative while frequently saying ‘the data says…’ and always connecting the pieces to the whole, but, unfortunately for this book the author’s coherence never infiltrates above the text.

I enjoyed the first half of the book where the author was laying out some of the history and providing context for how we justify our inequalities today as when the author will say ideologies allow us to justify injustice to such a degree that even when it comes to slavery and its abolition the debate never would involve remuneration for the enslaved but compensation for the slave holders up to the point where Tocqueville would suggest that the freed slave would have to work for a number of years to repay the slave holders for the slave holder’s lost capital.

The point the author is making is that we always think in terms of the paradigm that we existed in until we are no longer in that paradigm and then we think in terms of the new paradigm as if the old one never existed at all. The author will say ‘that elite discourse assumes the status quo and disruptions come difficultly’ (I’m paraphrasing, because I don’t want to look up the real quote, but the jest is there). [There is a bracketed aside I’m going to make. The author makes the point he won’t use the word ‘populist’, but I want to note he used the word ‘elite’ frequently, and as my last week NYT puzzle had as a clue ‘anathema to populism’ and the answer was ‘elitism’. Meaning that to define elite one can negate populist sense the negation of one implies the other. I’d even say it’s possible for the least elite of all a MAGA hat wearing hater to say that their ‘discourse assumes the status quo and disruptions come difficulty for them’].

The book is actually enjoyable for the first half or so as the author lies out the inequalities brought upon us by slavery, colonialism, India caste system, serfs, Shia/Shite, French Revolution, Ternary Societies and so on up to how we justify our current system’s unfairness through economic proprietary of property. The author says history did not have to unfold the way it did but it takes in-grained ideologies and turning points in order to make the switch that happened that will make the world the way it is today.

There are a lot of other connections the author makes but he really drifts away from his own overriding narrative in the second half of the book and I’m reluctant to waste my time thinking about it so I’ll save you the details. The author did bring up Adolf Hitler’s autobiography in detail and I’m glad he did because one of the keys for understanding Trump’s fascism (and he is definitely a fascist) is hidden within that book and also within Oswald Spengler’s book ‘Decline of the West’. The author also invokes Hannah Arendt’s book on Totalitarianism, but mostly to support his call for trans-nationalism.

The author’s second half of the book is dedicated mostly to recommending solutions and analyzing the recent history of political parties and their relationship between the right wing Hegelians and the left wing Hegelians (he doesn’t use that label, he’ll call them identity politics and class politics), and he’ll show how their constituencies have changed over time and relates more to education than identity or class. Americans are familiar that recently the college educated tends more towards the Democrats and the non-college educated tends towards Republicans.

The author ignores the ‘Christian Nationalist’ in his categorizations and explains party affiliation by education level while downplaying the role of racism, sexism, and homophobism, or for those who are just not being part of the self-selected privileged class (basically the definition of Fascism, read Hitler’s autobiography) . The author made his argument specific to identity and class and purposely downplays the severity of the fascism as channeled by MAGA hat wearing haters. As the NYT said recently (about March 25, 2020) in an article concerning why the right wing denied the severity of the novel Corona Virus is they are told to distrust government sources, not rely on science, reject academics and rely on their feelings when it is agreement with their hate when channeled by their cult leaders.

As this book will say all ideological systems are in place to justify unfairness, but there is a story to be told and this book loses sight of that story. There were a lot of allusions to the financial crisis of 2008 in this book, I would recommend reading Adam Tooze’s book ‘Crash’ instead of this book.
Profile Image for Miguel.
668 reviews54 followers
March 30, 2020
Sophomore slumps are the bane of writers with a prominent debut. Apparently some reviewers seem to think Piketty’s second major work falls under this category. This scattered unfair reception should come under scrutiny given the simple thought experiment of asking what the response would have been had this not been preceded by Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Had this been the case Capital & Ideology would have been hailed as the important major work that it is.

Most of the criticism hones in on the final chapter in which Piketty proposes some very high level counterbalances to the existing political/economic structure that has flourished to date and allowed gross inequality to thrive. These criticism seemingly ignore the prior 1000 pages that brilliantly lay out the ‘social, intellectual, and political history of inequality regimes’. It’s too bad that this is largely overlooked as the bulk of the book is a master class in showing just how societies across the world have evolved similar trends in political-economy: those that evolve to funnel and protect capital for a select few at the expense of the many.

Piketty’s explanation of the reasoning behind many voting against their economic interests are some of the most convincing written recently (even more so than what Ezra Klein put forward recently on ‘Why We’re Divided’): ‘The conservative revolution of the 1980s, the collapse of Soviet communism, and the development of neo-proprietarian ideology vastly increased the concentration of income and wealth in the first two decades of the 21st century. Inequality has in turn heightened social tensions almost everywhere. For want of a constructive egalitarian and universal political outlet, these tensions have fostered the kinds of nationalist identity cleavages that we see today in practically every part of the world… When people are told that there is no credible alternative to the socioeconomic organization and class inequality that exist today, it is not surprising that they invest their hopes in defending their borders and identities instead.’

With respect to Piketty’s proposals in the final chapter, it’s not as if he is harking back to a soviet style system or only putting forward a hackneyed version of “millennial socialism” (although one would think he were having only read the Economist’s book review): he openly states that these are overarching and not specific proposals to deal with these very real problems that he has so expertly laid out in the book.

One note on the audiobook – reading simultaneously the electronic version and listening to the audiobook, while a beneficial experience one needs to take into the account that the endnotes are read as part of the book, thus one has a jarring experience of having that material inserted into the main text. Net-net it would have been better had the endnotes been a separate section IMO.
Profile Image for Weronika.
175 reviews
April 11, 2020
As for a book of such magisterial dimensions, there is shockingly little content. The 1095 pages of my edition could be easily squeezed into no more than 250. And, no, there are no notes, Piketty refers readers to a website where references and bibliography may be found (for your convenience, suspicious reader!). The book has so many flaws that I do not know where to start. First of all, just like the first book by the author, it's dramatically franco-centric. I kept rolling my eyes for over 150 pages of Part One, which is basically France, France and France. Piketty's viewpoint is so narrow, he routinely overvalues and extrapolates the French experience, which is quite unique. He also confusingly uses the French perspective as the perspective of Western Europe. In the end, to him Italy and Spain are Southern Europe, Germany (Prussia) is Eastern Europe, Great Britain is a case of its own, so what's left of the Western civilization? Well, your guess is right! France, France and France. This results , for instance, in erroneous claims undervaluing the proliferation and persistence of serfdom in Europe or overemphasizing the French Revolution at the expense of the 1848 revolution (much more relevant globally for the transformation of property-regimes).
The second part focuses on slave and colonial societies and I found it really interesting, again, because it largely ignores the relatively well-known history of slavery in North America focusing almost exclusively on slavery in French colonies. It also contains an interesting, though flawed description of the Indian caste system.
The remaining two parts discuss themes of property in a biased and perfunctory manner. As for a book that has "ideology" in its title there are very few references to ideology and to other literature. The author(s) seem(s) to have neglected their reading in literature, history, philosophy, the titles quoted are so fundamental, they do not go beyond secondary education. So one would expect at least some interesting data. Surprisingly, there is nothing new. The charts are very basic, with nauseatingly repetitive descriptions. The author does put forward his proposals regarding property, but they do not fit into any kind of data-based coherent argumentation that would be developed/supported by the book.
In all, I found the book mediocre. Its contribution to political, social sciences or economics is, if any, negligible.
Profile Image for Tuncer Şengöz.
Author 6 books219 followers
December 28, 2020
Only 6 years after his magnum opus, Capital in the 21st Century, Thomas Piketty is back with another massive book of 1105 pages: Capital and Ideology.

The book starts with a striking statement: "Every human society must justify its inequalities." Then comes a grand tour from pre-modern terniary societies to "neo-proprietarian" socities, from social democrasies to hyper-capitalism, from segregationism in USA to caste sistem in India. And finally, Piketty proposes a society based on social federalism and democratic socialism as a solution to inegaliterain socities which have been lasting hundreds of years.

"I was initially more liberal and less socialist than I am now", he says, in the last chapter of his book, "(I realized) in 2001 how much violence accompanied the reduction of inequality in the twentieth century", he adds. "I have tried to make the reader aware at least the concious part of my progress by citing the historical sources, books, and other readings that led me to the positions I take here" he concludes.

I enjoyed reading every single page of this book, acquiring lots of ideas. It took me two months to read this book, but it was worth it. I believe, Capital and Ideology, along with Capital in the 21st Century is a must-read for everyone who ponders on inequality, the future of the civilization and what a just society is.
Profile Image for Craig Bellamy.
12 reviews1 follower
September 7, 2020
One of the most productive things that I have done during Melbourne’s lockdown is read Thomas Piketty’s latest work, Capital and Ideology (Harvard University Press, 2020). It is undoubtedly not the leisurely book to read, at 1150 pages, dense with footnotes, appendices, and graphs, spanning a three-hundred-year period, multiple countries, and the fields of economics and history. It is a monumental work of scholarship, and along with his last significant work Capital in the 21st Century (Harvard University Press, 2014), it provides a rigorously empirical, data-centric and troubling view of the undoing of financial egalitarianism in Western democracies. Piketty provides the historical reasoning of this, the monumental failure of the command economies of communism, the weakening of progressive taxations and other policies design to redistribute wealth (such as inheritance taxes) and the shift in the ideology of egalitarianism to ideologies based the uncritical embrace of ‘meritocracy’.

The primary cause of the significant shift is that the political left (Labour and Democrat’s) shifted from worker’s parties to parties of the educated (or what Piketty calls the Brahman left). A more educated demographic is more likely to vote left; the less educated are more likely to vote right. Politics has become less of a class battle and more of a battle between elites; the ‘Brahman left’ and the ‘Mercantile right’, with a bunch of Identitarian political cleavages to keep things interesting.

I will attempt to extrapolate the four key arguments.

Inequality has always been justified by ideology, from pre-modern ‘trifunctional societies’ (church, nobles, and warriors), to slavery, colonialism, communism to what Piketty terms ‘hyper-capitalism’. All regimes had an ideology to justify financial inequality from the slave states of the Caribbean and southern United States (that drew up to 100% of their income from the slave trade), to Belle Époque France, to 21st Century hyper-capitalist states. Piketty has a knack for measuring the transition of inequality through various historical epochs using vast data sets of national income, taxation, and inheritance records. During the late Belle Époque (the period after the French Revolution) a ridiculously small elite owned nearly all the property in Paris, justified by the post-revolutionary-meritocracy of mercantile ‘egalitarian exceptionalism’. It was only through the advent of progressive taxation and inheritance taxes in the 20th Century that France and other countries moved to a more quantifiable egalitarianism.

Piketty claims that communism was a disaster so great that its failure overshadows the regimes of colonialism and slavery that came before it (and this argument has infuriated the Chinese CCP so much, that they have banned his book in China). Plus, the failure to regulate capital through the experimental, centralised command economies of communism, has pushed western countries in another ideological and policy direction, to have very-little wealth in public hands. In fact, all that citizens now own through their governments (schools, roads, buildings, and agencies) is worth zero dollars once government debt is considered. Indeed, in some countries, governments must pay private enterprise interest as governments own less that they owe (and this has happened in the short timeframe of 10 years).

Social democratic policies are another area of focus of Piketty’s examination. Although they have not disappeared altogether (Norway, Sweden, Germany, and to a lesser degree, New Zealand and Australia), their influence on the world stage is marginal to the 21st Century libertarian notion of globalism (free-trade, tax havens, and ‘race to the bottom’ tax competition between nations). Piketty argues that social democracies should form federal alliances to regulate capital on a global scale, as they have so successfully domestically.

The social democracies were some of the most egalitarian societies the world has ever known, but this did not happen through mere cultural reasons or imagined ‘egalitarian exceptionalism’, but through clear policies linked to the unambiguous ideology of wanting to be egalitarian. This entailed political courage and enacting policies of wealth distribution through high progressive taxation and high rates of inheritance tax. The period from the Second World War until 1980 was a prosperous, high-growth, high-innovation period and this was archived through maintaining egalitarianism via high progressive taxation, especially in the US (up to 75%), which is now the most inegalitarian western economy. Piketty’s point is that fiscal egalitarianism and innovation are not mutually exclusive, and in fact, the opposite may be the case. Globalism needs to move onto a more egalitarian footing, and this can only be done through alliances of progressive, egalitarian countries, something like a federal version of the EU (that presently only collect and distributes 1% of European GDP).

As Piketty argues, one of the significant reasons that western countries (particularly the US), became so inegalitarian is because of shifting ideologies and voting patterns, especially on the left. Piketty uses post-election surveys to examine voter behaviour and discovered that there has been an almost complete reversal of voting patterns among a less-educated demographic. Since the 1980s, the less educated are more likely to vote Republican or Tory, and the highly educated are more likely to vote Labour of Democrat. This voting shift mirrors the reduction of progressive taxation and the heightening of inequality in western democracies. The policies of the left (or what Piketty terms the Brahmin left) are seen to support high-education and high-salaries, whilst neglecting the working classes. This is because of the pressure of global capital (or ‘race to the bottom’ taxation competition), a highly fractured polity, and the left and the individual state’s inability and unwillingness to tax and redistribute at the state level.

As a conclusion, Piketty seems to be arguing that we need to get over communism, try egalitarianism again, and learn from the social democracies. The state does not have to own everything (the means of production). It can foster egalitarianism through taxation and ‘fiscal justice’, inheritance taxes (that prevent inter-generational wealth accumulation), and workers-representatives on company boards (as is the case in Germany and Nordic counties). One of his more interesting ideas is that there ought to be an explicit public-inheritance, or that every 25-year-old could receive a sum of say, 200 thousand euros to set them up in life at an early stage. This money would come from an inheritance tax on the enormous fortunes. The ‘egalitarian ideology’ that justifies this is that wealth should be temporary and not accumulated over many generations (that could see us return to the nobility of pre-modern times).

I am fortunate enough to have read both of Piketty’s significant works, and the irony is, this type of scholarship is only possible in the 21st Century. The synthesis of quantitative data with a historical narrative on such scale using such techniques has all the hallmarks of emergent digital humanities (or ‘big reading’). Piketty has even made much of his data available for further analysis, visualisation, and debate in the classroom. The book was released just before the global coronavirus pandemic, so perhaps there is a historical moment now, as there was directing proceeding the Second World War, where we have the chance to recalibrate ideologically and again move towards egalitarianism.
Profile Image for Benji.
328 reviews37 followers
February 4, 2020
'L’histoire du XXe siècle et du désastre communiste oblige aujourd’hui à une étude minutieuse des régimes inégalitaires et de leurs justifications, et surtout des dispositifs institutionnels et des modes d’organisation socio-économique permettant réellement l’émancipation humaine et sociale. L’histoire de l’inégalité ne saurait se réduire à un éternel affrontement entre les oppresseurs du peuple et les fiers défenseurs de ce dernier. Elle repose de part et d’autre sur des constructions intellectuelles et institutionnelles sophistiquées, qui ne sont certes pas toujours exemptes d’hypocrisie et de volonté de perpétuation de la part des groupes dominants, mais qui méritent néanmoins d’être examinées de près. À la différence de la lutte des classes, la lutte des idéologies repose sur le partage des connaissances et des expériences, le respect de l’autre, la délibération et la démocratie. Personne ne détiendra jamais la vérité absolue sur la propriété juste, la frontière juste, la démocratie juste, l’impôt ou l’éducation juste. L’histoire des sociétés humaines peut se voir comme celle de la quête de la justice. Seules la confrontation minutieuse des expériences historiques et personnelles et la délibération la plus étendue peuvent permettre de faire des progrès dans cette direction.'
Profile Image for Thomas Ray.
865 reviews302 followers
January 4, 2023
Capital and Ideology, Thomas Piketty, (2019 in French,) 2020 English translation by Arthur Goldhammer, 1093 pages, Dewey 305, ISBN 9780674980822


When the lording class is revealed as useless parasites, we try something else.

The 1789 French Revolution reduced the nobles and the church, and advanced the bourgeoisie.

The crises of 1914-1949 revealed that a winner-take-all world is inadequate. The West made partial attempts at social democracy; the East succumbed to totalitarianism.

Since 1980, we're reverting to a robber-baron era. Quantitative easing and the bloating of the financial sector avoided the fundamental issues and encouraged people to give up hope of any possibility of achieving a just economy. p. 705.

Inequality is a political choice. If it is not addressed, it can lead to political, economic, and social catastrophes. --World Inequality Report, https://wid.world by Piketty and his collaborators https://inequalitylab.world/en/team/

Social and political change requires social and political struggle, and ideological renewal. p. 547.

Carbon-dioxide-equivalent income elasticity is 0.9, meaning that a household earning (or spending) 10% more than its neighbour emits 9% more CO2e.

1: clergy/nobility/worker pp. 51-64
2: clergy/nobility/worker society in Europe pp. 65-98
3: "ownership society" pp. 99-125
4: hyper-unequal ownership society pre-WWI pp. 126-155
5: clergy/nobility/worker to proprietarian society: UK & Sweden pp. 156-200

6: slave society, abolition, compensation to slaveowners pp. 203-251
7: post-slavery pp. 252-303
8: India pp. 304-361
9: China, Japan, Iran pp. 362-412

20TH CENTURY chapters 10-13
10: a less-vertical playing field between the rich and the rest pp. 415-485
11: social democracy, somewhat pp. 486-577
12: Russia, China, Eastern Europe pp. 578-647
13: return to inequality, now with environmental damage pp. 648-716

14: France pp. 719-806
15: U.S., U.K. pp. 807-861
16: The West, Eastern Europe, India, Brazil pp. 862-965
17: workplace democracy? tax wealth? college and loans? global governance? pp. 966-1034

After a somewhat-equalizing period in much of the world 1945-1980, inequality has increased everywhere since the 1980s. The bottom 50% of Americans together receive 12.5% of national income; the top 10% get 48% of national income, 2018.

In a world whose economy had been entirely monetized and given over to the market, the collapse of the gold standard and the ensuing disruption of the global financial system in the 1920s reduced masses to poverty by inflation, while speculators got fat. This fed demands for strong, authoritarian governments, most notably in Germany. p. 470.

Significant progressive taxation of income, inheritance, and wealth began after WWI. p. 446. Fear of worker support of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 prompted France to tax its rich. pp. 448, 466.

Steeply-progressive taxation is essential, to avoid lords-and-serfs levels of inequality. p. 462.

In 1932, the effective tax rate (all taxes) on the top .01% of Americans by income was 77%, and on the bottom half was 12%. In 2020, the top .01% pay 32%; the bottom half pay 24%.


1780, France: Nobility + clergy total 1.5% of total population; nobility own 25-30% of land, clergy 15%; tithe and other privileges put the privileged 1.5% well over half France's wealth. p. 86.

Pre-1910, Mexico: 1% of the people own 95% of the land. p. 561.


Nobles gained their property by violence. p. 103.

The 1789 revolution zeroed French churchmen's wealth and income, and halved nobles' wealth. p. 86.

The French revolutionary legislators were bourgeois property owners. They preserved property rights. By 1914, wealth inequality was worse than in 1780.

In no society has the bottom half ever owned more than token wealth. p. 129.

Tax data proved that pre-WWI France was extremely inegalitarian. A very few people held most of the country's fortune. p. 149. Though the initial income taxes collected negligible wealth, the data collected with them showed that confiscatory taxation would be needed, to lessen the lords-and-serfs level of inequality. Yet the French senate continued to vote for tiny taxes in its own self-interest. p. 152.
Recently, politicians have prevented data-gathering of wealth distribution, out of fear of calls to tax the rich. pp. 678, 684.

Revolutionary France's 1789 slogan would make progress toward coming true, only after WWII with non-negligibly progressive taxation. p. 152.

0.01% of the population owned more than half the land in the U.K. in 1880. Less than 0.1% owned nearly 80%. These few also controlled the government. pp. 165-166.

Inequality, colonialism, and nationalism brought on the 1914-1945 wars that ended the Belle-Époque version of proprietarian society. p. 200.

Nearly all societies had slaves before 1789. Societies reliant on slavery included Brazil, the U.S., and West Indes, 1700-1888. p. 204-207. The 4 million U.S. slaves in 1860 were the largest concentration ever. Plus 1.5 million in Brazil and .5 million in Cuba. pp. 207, 230-232. But see Russia. pp. 249-250.


1791-1848 France and possessions. Hatians took the French at their 1789 words, "liberty, equality, fraternity." Haitian slaves freed themselves by force of arms, 1791. Haiti had been the #1 cotton producer. The Southern U.S. would take over.

Colonialism used forced labor and extreme inegalitarianism, similar to slavery. pp. 252-253. Two ages, p. 280:

1492-1850: Conquest and enslavement. Ended by rebellions.

1850-1960 (-1994 S. Africa): Rule. Ended by wars and revolutions.

British empire peak, 1938: 450 million population (300 million India, ruled by 200,000 Britons, including 100,000 soldiers). U.K. itself was 45 million. French empire peak, 1938: 95 million: 22 million North Africa, 35 M Indochina, 34 M West & equatorial Africa, 5 M Madagascar. France itself, 40 M. Dutch empire, mostly Indonesia, 70 M; Holland 8 M. p. 255.

When a society's average per capita income reaches 3 to 4 times the subsistence level, inequality can become extreme. Power, ideology, and politics determine inequality. pp. 267-270.

India's population is projected to surpass China's before 2030.

Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra roughly correspond to Europe's priest, noble, worker, serf. Both schemes are bids for control by the clerical elite. pp. 311-.



1700: India 170 million; China 140 million; Europe 100 million (125 million with Russia, Ukraine, Belarus). pp. 305-306


The U.K. banned imports of textiles to help U.K. industry. Chinese and Indian share of global manufacturing output was still 53% in 1800. It fell to 5% by 1900. p. 381 and Parthasarathi, /Why Europe Grew Rich/, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1... .

Ownership societies conquered the world by military, technological, and financial power they developed in intra-European competition. p. 479.

Employee-union representatives have seats on industrial corporate boards in Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, and Austria. This gives unions a voice and access to management information. It helps keep executive pay finite. p. 496-499. Militant German unionists won fights with owners in 1918-1922. The rights were reinstated and expanded during 1945-1951.

European countries race to bottom business taxes and lowest individual unearned-income taxes pp. 550, 555.

All wealth is fundamentally social. All wealth depends on the social division of labor and on the intellectual capital accumulated over the entire course of human history. --Léon Bourgeois and Émile Durkheim, 1890s, advocating progressive income and estate taxes. p. 562.
God called, 'Come to my feast.' Then what happened? Rockefeller, Morgan, and their crowd stepped up and took enough for 120 million people and left only enough for 5 million of all the other 125 million to eat. And so many millions must go hungry and without these good things God gave us unless we call on them to put some of it back. --Senator Huey Long, /Share Our Wealth: Every Man a King/, 1934. p. 564.

Ultimately, every ideology is the victim of some form of sacralization--of private property in one case, of state property in another. p. 592.

As public debt in the rich countries climbs to in some cases exceed the value of all public assets, the state is again subject to control by private creditors. pp. 193-194, 607.

2018: TOP 10% & TOP 1% SHARE OF TOTAL INCOME pp. 261-262

Top ….Top
10% …. 1%
23% …. 4% Sweden
35% … 11% Western Europe
48% … 22% U.S.
56% … 28% Brazil
64% … 30% Middle East

Data from his World Inequality Database, http://wid.world

Online technical appendix http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/fr/ideology including figures cited above.



Profile Image for Dr. Tobias Christian Fischer.
622 reviews30 followers
December 5, 2020
Ein Klassiker - den ich Wärmstens empfehlen kann. Piketty geht von der Ungleichheit und Ungerechtigkeit der Gesellschaft aus und wie man sie umgehen kann.
Profile Image for Albert.
166 reviews4 followers
May 18, 2020
I consider myself very fortunate to have found this book and to have been able to read it. It is beyond any doubt, the best book I have ever read.

Piketty gives me hope for a better world. In that sense, he inspires me, as the speeches and legacy of Martin Luther King have inspired me since my childhood.

This book is chock-full of information in the form of data and graphs. It explains how and in what form inequality has always existed throughout the ages. It also explains how the growing inequality in the western world has been ever-increasing since Thatcher and Reagan, even under all socialists governments, such as under Blair and Clinton. He explains by means of ample data how the left-wing socialist parties, including the Democrats in the USA, have slowly but steadily transformed from parties for the working class to parties for the higher educated. He not only discusses the political and ideological status in the western nations over many years, but also the situation in India, China and Russia.

I think the strongest aspect of the book is its emphasis on data, facts and figures. Where I myself often feel angry, or irritated in the view of so much injustice in the world, where inequality continues to increase to ridiculous levels, Piketty discusses all data with an emphasis on facts instead of emotions. He also analyses the various arguments that have been used, and are still used to defend the current situation.

It is not often the case that I learn as much from a book as have have learnt from Capital and Ideology. It has answered many questions I had about things I did not understand, and I can full heartedly recommend the book to anyone interested in understanding and improving the current extremely unequal word that we live in.

That does not mean that I don't see potential for improvement. The main aspect being that the book would have been even better if it would have had, say 400 pages instead of 1104. There is a lot of duplication of information in the book, and a lot of detail that could have been left out. I do understand, however, that reducing the page count to include only the essential information is easier said than done, and would take a lot of time. I dealt with it by often switching to fast reading mode, browsing over, in my view, unessential stuff.

Highly recommended!
Profile Image for Stefan Bruun.
262 reviews49 followers
March 28, 2020
A lot of intriguing ideas and concepts. While I will probably never agree fully with Piketty, understanding the history and trajectory of countries and regions does indeed help explain the current political environments.

Many of the analyses are based on views that are inherently subjective. The data doesn't prove the views right or wrong but describes a development objectively. The missing piece in the book is the human. What happens to the human if you tax him/her 100%? Will they contribute to society in the same way? Who should ensure the appropriate governance of companies of voting power is capped? Nowadays, governance is more important than ever.

The psychological and motivational aspects about being are missing. But maybe that is a logical conclusion when Piketty describes the society of the academic and elitist left where a theoretical understanding of money allocation matters more than experience and pragmatism.
Profile Image for Daniel1974nlgmail.com.
162 reviews31 followers
August 24, 2020
The first 50 pages of Capital & Ideology of Thomas Piketty (Harvard 2020) alone already present a wiser and better informed position and read than anything else I have read about contemporary politics the last year. This is historical writing and analysis with the capital 'H'. And just as Capitalism In The 20th Century a mind boggling read in the style of Braudel, Wallerstein, etc. Not economy, not philosophy and more history and literary analysis than his colleagues are going to be wiling to forgive him. You don't have to agree with all, I am sure I won't but read it for the intellectual power that sparks of every page.

Surely the most interesting book I read this year that was also published this year.
Profile Image for Benjamin Lion.
8 reviews1 follower
October 1, 2021
Telkens wanneer ik een boek lees verandert dit mij als persoon, hoe ik naar de wereld of mezelf kijk. Ook dit boek heeft tot die ontwikkeling bijgedragen. Maar belangrijker, Piketty heeft me dankzij zijn historische analyse een doel gegeven. Het strijden voor rechtvaardigheid, een minder ongelijke wereld! Hij biedt reeds enkele mogelijks te bewandelen paden aan om dat doel te benaderen. Ik hoop in mijn komende studiejaren en mijn verdere loopbaan deze paden verder te kunnen onderzoeken en te testen. Ook besef ik nu pas hoe belangrijk en interessant ‘economie’ is en kan zijn, een vakgebied waar ik nog veel meer over wil bijleren.
511 reviews126 followers
February 4, 2020
A thundering follow up to Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-first Century (2014), his era-defining examination of the growth of national inequalities. Whereas the first book examines what actually happened to inequality levels over time, particularly in the rich countries of the first wave of industrialization, this new book is a world tour of how different societies have ideologically justified inequality over time, particularly during moments of transition from one “inequality regime” to another
Profile Image for Ietrio.
6,568 reviews25 followers
February 12, 2020
The imam of the current Socialism asks for the annulment of private property. Somehow TP is not a criminal conspiring to robbery, but someone who is so valuable to the society that taxes have to be collected in order to pay him and his family.
Profile Image for James.
1 review5 followers
May 14, 2020
I will say more about this later.
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