13 April, 2015

Thomas Piketty's Capital

Last year, just before the holiday season kicked into full swing, I went and bought Thomas Piketty's Capital after reading through Cory Doctorow's review on Boing Boing. That and during those first few post-undergraduate months, academic reads became one of my guilty pleasures, reading through the Issues in Feminist Film Criticism anthology along with ordering Richard Schechner's Performance Theory alongside other books. This was the result of my two years as a university transfer student when I took mostly English classes and wrote mostly analyses of literature's past hits, from Shakespeare to Truman Capote, with a Marxist bent. Hence my purchase, which later appeared on my first shelfies for Ello.  

When I first took those shelfies, one of the users asked if I read the book, to which I responded that I didn't but said that was one of the first for next year. Three months later, I can proudly say that I read through the entire thing, except the reference notes. I promised that same user a review so here is my verdict in full.

Goes without saying, this is definitely not a causal Sunday read. Nor do I recommend reading it while snowed in. Even if I do enjoy those academic forays, there's a lot to digest here even if Piketty repeats and reinforces the same points and statistics.

There is his formula in the beginning: r > g (or capital return rate is greater than economic growth). From there on out, Piketty puts this theory into action to reinforce the state of wealth inequality throughout history, on a global scale. Piketty is very thorough to the very conclusion and his proposals to regulate wealth and to shorten the divide between the classes.

There's a vast expanse, but here's what I found noteworthy...

The parts where he brings in literary examples, specifically Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac, to explain how wealth worked in the Eighteenth Century primarily through bonds and land that turned into rent payments, kept me from getting lost in the statistics of it all. Having that lens into how literary characters accumulate, invest, and utilize capital helped mesh the subjective into the objective. There's also Piketty's reference to the "Rentier", which he goes back to later in Part Three where he talks about the resurgence of capital through merit and inheritance, maintaining today's wealth inequality.

Then, Piketty's look at the structure of said inequality over time helped finalize the big picture as to why is there this imbalance between the bourgeoisie and the middle and working classes. With the States, Piketty notices the sharp rise in the wealth chasm before the 1929 Great Depression where he mentions that it briefly compressed shortly after, but not as much as Europe due to the wage inequality that developed overtime.

All this paints the picture today. One where movements like Occupy Wall Street march to advocate for the 99% (proletarians) opposed to the 1%'s (bourgeoisie's) abuses from finance to environment. Piketty himself has his own proposals to curb the gap, including economic transparency and a global tax on capital itself.

Capital's a book worth reading, but if time's short, Pikettty's TED Talk summarizes it well enough...

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