There's no sex in it, no racy dialogue, and no violence that I know of, except that which is being done to our future. Nonetheless my copy of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century--a Kapital sequel of sorts, encountering The Wealth of Nations--had to be back-ordered. So it is yet in my hands. It's that popular. This gives me hope. One review suggested that Piketty's work would be but another large tome that everyone buys but very few read. Still, it is selling and generating quite a discussion.
I'm anxious to get to it, although its thesis, as sketched by Chrystia Freeland, sounds not only gloomily familiar, but logically ineluctable. Piketty is "not worried that capitalism is being corrupted by a few thieving buccaneers," she observes in a Politico Magazine review. "His argument is an existential one--that the basic logic of capitalism is to create ever-greater accumulations of wealth and that these will tend toward the creation of a hereditary aristocracy of money, what he calls patrimonial capitalism."
In the academic world, such things must be proved. Researched. Documented. Cited, footnoted and peer reviewed. In the real world, one only need look around. The rich get richer, as they say, and the poor get poorer--chiefly, suggests the visible evidence, because the rich are rich and the poor are poor. This, the rich deny, though the poor tend to agree. Meanwhile the rich send their kids to rich schools where they "network" with other rich kids and cultivate themselves for more of that hard-won success that's already been handed to them. The poor dodge bullets in drive-by inner-city shootings and chastise themselves for having lacked the foresight and good taste to be born rich, while what's left of the middle class attends adult-education courses on how to be poor.
That's how I'd put it, without too much exaggeration. And here's how Paul Krugman put Piketty to Bill Moyer:
[W]hat he's really done now is he said, "Even those of you who talk about the 1 percent, you don't really get what's going on. You're living in the past. You're living in the '80s. You think that Gordon Gekko is the future."
And Gordon Gekko is a bad guy, he's a predator. But he's a self-made predator. And right now, what we're really talking about is we're talking about Gordon Gekko's son or daughter. We're talking about inherited wealth playing an ever-growing role. So he's telling us that we are on the road not just to a highly unequal society, but to a society of an oligarchy. A society of inherited wealth, "patrimonial capitalism." And he does it with an enormous amount of documentation and it's a revelation. I mean, even for someone like me, it's a revelation.
It shouldn't be. It is the basic logic of capitalism, which includes our mildly regulated version of it. It has always been the basic logic of capitalism--intensely cumulative, brutally exclusionary, and as fundamentally unChristian as Stalinism. Capitalism's only salvation is a Marxist synthesis, which, from what I have gathered before reading his book, is what Piketty proposes.