You can label it a flaky metaphor--an interchangeability, a kind of fungible daftness--but however you label it, it's as distressing as it is preposterous: the right's wounded yelping about Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century; a yelping that symbolizes its inveterate resistance to scholarship, empiricism, and just plain thought.
The book is Marxism, cries the right, or it's soft Marxism, or it's post- or post-post-Marxism; or it "borders on schizophrenia"; or it's so, so, so ... French, that of those who "for many years implemented destructive policies of income redistribution." Notes Brad DeLong: "Combining these strands of conservative criticism, the real problem with Piketty's book becomes clear: its author is a mentally unstable foreign communist."
But of course the criticism reflects not on Piketty's work, it reflects on itself. Rare indeed is the communist who goes out of his way to warn of concentrated wealth's threat to Western democracy and pluralistic, capitalistically achieved social order, as Piketty does. Even rarer is the communist who would have this hilarious exchange with the New Republic's Isaac Chotiner:
IC: Can you talk a little bit about the effect of Marx on your thinking and how you came to start reading him?
TP: I never managed really to read it [Kapital]. I mean I don’t know if you’ve tried to read it. Have you tried?
Hell even Fidel Castro once admitted he couldn't get through it. As a sociologist, Marx was in many ways unsurpassed in perception and brilliance; as an economist, he was simply impassable. Piketty makes relatively scant reference to Marx, nonetheless Chotiner presses on: "Your book, obviously with the title, it seemed like you were tipping your hat to him in some ways." That propelled this clarifying if not horrified response from Piketty: "No not at all, not at all!" (In fact the author makes more empirical-research references to the work of Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac than he does to that of Karl Marx.)
But back to the right's criticism. How much of it comes from having actually read Piketty's book? I can't say, but I can speculate: very little, it would seem--since, as noted, Piketty's principal objective is to save Western democracy and world capitalism by somehow regulating their most destructive forces. Which is what John Maynard Keynes attempted nearly a century ago in his profoundly conservative, capitalism-preserving works.
The right never grasped that, either.