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Thomas Piketty takes aim at wealth inequality

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BERLIN – French political economist Thomas Piketty’s last book, “Capital in the 21st Century,” wasn’t just a publishing phenomenon: It drew the world’s attention to the problem of growing inequality. In his latest work, the 1,200-page-long “Capital and Ideology,” he proposes a solution — in a word, expropriation.

If the first work was largely an economic treatise, the second (so far only available in French) is essentially a political one. It tracks how different political ideologies have justified and promoted inequality since the Middle Ages. To Piketty, the years between 1950 and 1980 were the most successful for “egalitarian coalitions,” by which he means parties of the left, but these have since faltered. To address that failure, he attempts to set out a manifesto for the modern left.

To Piketty, 1980 marked a regrettable turning point as leaders such as U.S. President Ronald Reagan and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher turned their backs on progressive taxation. He writes:

“Both American and European growth were stronger in the egalitarian 1950-1980 period than in the subsequent period, characterized by rising inequality, raising serious questions about the social utility of the latter. The greater increase in inequality observed since 1980 in the U.S., compared to Europe, has also generated little additional growth, and in any case has not benefited the poorest 50 percent, who have experienced total stagnation in their absolute standard of living in the U.S. and a collapse in their relative level.”

According to Piketty, today’s top 10 percent are way too wealthy throughout the world. Meanwhile, the working and middle classes have been abandoned. That, he argues, is a better explanation for the rise of populism, U.S.........

© The Japan Times