April 23rd, 2014

All those objective moderates who love Piketty’s book…

are revealing themselves to be the leftists that they actually are.

I said as much in my Piketty post when I wrote:

In case you’re wondering, Piketty’s book has been hailed almost universally on the left—and by “left” I mean almost everyone except the right.

If that was a little too subtle, I want to emphasize a similar thought as expressed here by David Harsanyi:

…[H]ow does a book that evokes Marx and talks about tweaking the Soviet experiment find so much love from people who consider themselves rational, evidence-driven moderates?

Put it this way: It’s unlikely that Democrats would have praised a book like this 20 years ago – or even 10. Nowadays, Jack Lew – better known as the Treasury Secretary of the United States of America – takes time to chit chat with the author…

Like many progressives, Piketty doesn’t really believe most people deserve their wealth anyway, so confiscating it presents no real moral dilemma. He also argues that we can measure a person’s productivity and the value of a worker (namely, low-skilled laborers), while at the same time he argues that other groups of workers (namely, the kind of people he doesn’t admire) are bequeathed undeserved “arbitrary” salaries. What tangible benefit does a stockbroker or a Kulak or an explanatory journalist offer society, after all?…

The thing is, some of us still believe that capitalism fosters meritocratic values. Or I should say, we believe that free markets are the best game in town. Not that long ago, this was a nearly universal position. A lot of people used to believe that even the disruptions of capitalism — the “caprices of technology” as Piketty dismisses them— that rattle “social order” also happen to generate mobility, dynamism and growth. Today this probably qualifies as Ayn Rand-style extremism.

Then again, I haven’t read Ayn Rand since college (or maybe it was high school) but if I still believed she was the most prophetic writer of her generation, I might feel compelled to defend her ideas. But Piketty’s utopian notions and authoritarian inclinations — ones that I’m pretty sure most Americans (and probably most Democrats) would still find off-putting — do not seem to rattle the left-wing press one bit. While Piketty’s economic data might be worth studying and debating, his political ideas are unworthy of discussion.

Despite the extremism of his positions, Piketty has already become a folk hero to inequality alarmists everywhere. So if his popularity tells us anything, it’s that many liberal “thought leaders” have taken a far more radical position on economic policy than we’re giving them credit for.

I’d like to add a caution to one thing Harsanyi says, though. He writes that he’s pretty sure that “most Americans (and probably most Democrats) would still find” Piketty’s “utopian notions and authoritarian inclinations” “off-putting.” Maybe so, but that’s certainly less true than it used to be, which is part of the reason that these liberal pundits don’t seem to have much problem coming out with their praise of Piketty.

I can’t find any polls asking people whether the rich should be taxed at a rate of 80%; my guess is that Harsanyi is right that most people would not support it. But the majority favors higher taxes on the rich, and it’s not hard to imagine that the definition of “higher” could increase significantly over time.

Will Piketty’s views ever become mainstream? Not sure, but they will if the press has anything to say about it.

30 Responses to “All those objective moderates who love Piketty’s book…”

  1. Eric Says:

    Once again, proof of the effectiveness of the activist method in normalizing and stigmatizing social value sets in the general will and collective consciousness.

    What was normal “20 years ago – or even 10″ was a manufactured social product then.

    What will be normal 10 or 20 years hence will be social products manufactured by activists.

    It’s the only social-political game there is.

  2. M J R Says:

    neo writes, “Harsanyi . . . writes that he’s pretty sure that ‘most Americans (and probably most Democrats) would still find’ Piketty’s ‘utopian notions and authoritarian inclinations’ ‘off-putting.’ Maybe so, but that’s certainly less true than it used to be, . . .”

    I stopped short at that sentence of Harsanyi’s as well.

    I am figuring that you (neo) are being wisely cautious in what you are writing. Since I am suffering no such pangs, I will be happy to suggest that most Democrats — by which I mean a clear majority — are by this late date perfectly happy with “Piketty’s ‘utopian notions and authoritarian inclinations’.”

    They vote in favor of them with distressing regularity, especially in party primaries.

  3. J.J. Says:

    IMO, the progs look at the issue of unequal results and believe it is the result of some massive cheating or criminal activity by the wealthy. Yet they cultivate the wealthy to fund their campaigns. Quite a lot of hypocrisy there.
    They also don’t recognize that the people who produce the wealth are benefitting the entire economy when the wealth is produced honestly. Get rid of the producers and you run out of other people’s money pretty quickly.

    There is one thing that could create a beneficial economic result and level the playing field a bit, but it has little to do with taxes or taking money away from producers. Reforming corporate governance would be a giant step in the right direction. Not all companies are affected but many are. The problem is that management compensation has broken ranks with economic value. Too may executives are paid far more than they are actually worth. In some cases, Enron and Tyco being a couple of examples, the executives systematically looted their companies. The Boards of Directors (BODs) are supposed to be the bulwark against this sort of thing. However, it’s become possible to pack boards with insiders and/or cronies who will rubber stamp salary and bonuses far out of whack with company results. Supposedly, tying pay to stock options would overcome this, making pay more directly reflect the performance of the company. That system has been gamed through the use of pre-dated options, phantom options, sudden options, and many other techniques that increase pay without it reflecting the actual performance of the company. Also, cooking the books has been used to show bogus company performance. Sarbanes Oxley was supposed to fix that, but it didn’t envision banks and investment bankers loading up on 27 to 1 leverage or developing derivatives such as Credit Default Swaps (CDSs) that would magnify their results, but endanger the whole financial system. Good, independent BODs would have prevented that.

    My solution to the problem calls for most boards to be composed of real outsiders. The job of the board is to supervise the managers for the stockholders. They represent the stockholder’s interests. To provide people for this job there should be a new, highly respected profession known as Directors. These would be seasoned men of ethics who had proven themselves in the business and/or the legal world. They could serve on as many as six boards at once, but they must always have an arms length relationship with top management where they serve. Their profession would be looked on as highly esteemed and honorable. Their importance to the honesty of corporate governance would be paramount. Having such a system would increase confidence in corporate management and benefit stockholders who need honest management of the companies they invest in. Yes, I know, where are we going to find these men? Well, we should be able to find a few thousand to start on our biggest, most influential companies and build from there.

    The other alternative to this would be for big investors – mutual funds, endowments, retirement funds, etc. to become more activist in demanding that BODs reign in salaries or get rid of poor performing executives. Some are activist these days but not nearly enough. Not expecting much change there.

  4. Steve Says:

    You ever wonder why intellectuals get rounded up and killed repeatedly in history? Maybe it is because they are prone to groupthink and, at their root, have ideas that are rubbish and purely self serving. Although the average person may not articulate it, they know when things do not add up.

  5. Oldflyer Says:

    I agree with JJ’s first paragraph that the Left seems to think that wealth inequality results from conspiracy. The “Old Boy Network”? Soon, if not already, the “Mature (but still attractive and vibrant of course) Girl Network”. Of course there are “bad” conspiracies that operate to inflate compensation in the corporate world, and there are “good” conspiracies that operate in Academia, the Arts and Government.

    I think in many instances the main stream folks who tut tut over the income inequality are part of the proverbial “low information syndrome”. Those who experience this syndrome are augmented by a certain emotional and intellectual separation from the reality of the issue. Two close family members; one is single and has an income of just over $100k. The other is married and the combined income is probably about $250k. Neither consider themselves particularly high income; although the IRS certainly does. Everyone they associate with is in the same range–or higher. So, those nasty high income people must be elsewhere. Meanwhile, they don’t think the income distribution in the country is fair; and they are willing to vote for candidates who promise fairness. Well, cattle also walk meekly to slaughter. Then there are the Marxists and other retrograde revolutionaries with their shrill voices.

    I also agree with JJ that a large part of the problem is tied to corporate governance. Unfortunately, I do not think that this is easy, or maybe even possible, to fix. The big issue is that most publicly traded stock is held by large entities; e.g., pension funds, unions, mutuals. The people who manage those entities just don’t give a damn. So long as the return is enough to keep their own constituents off of their backs, they are not going to start any fights in share holder conclaves. Besides, there is usually no complaint about their personal income. Therefore the crony boards get elected and re-elected, and the back scratching continues with few interruptions.

    How many of the small people bother to even get involved? I confess that I cannot remember when I last cast a proxy ballot. Too much effort to do the research.

  6. Don Carlos Says:

    “… many liberal ‘thought leaders’ have taken a far more radical position on economic policy than we’re giving them credit for.”

    That is the key to our future. We are possibly doomed even if we recognize this and act with the most vigorous opposition, but we are surely doomed if we do not. They are ruining us as we sit at our keyboards.

  7. Tonawanda Says:

    This country is radically different now from ten and many more years ago.

    Even perceptive and understanding folks are lost in their bewildered decency, thinking their polite view of the American world has some relevance, when they are being laughed at and run circles around, as the Leftist Big Lie Confidence Game continually proves.

    Audacity was the heart and soul of Hitler, and it has been working for a long time now for the Left, as it did for Hitler. But the Left now has so much more refinement in perpetrating the Big Lie.

    Roger Simon had an article today (or yesterday) about how the non-Left, meaning those folks who simply understand reality as it is without ideological blinders, needs to do Hollywood and other sectors of society to appeal to the low information voters.

    This is so errant it is quite depressing.

    The non-Left needs consciously to appeal to high information voters. They are the ones who control the levers. True, they are as banal and shallow as anything, but they do control.

    But to state the proposition is self-evidently to state the low probability. Our culture has been the object of the Left for many decades, and they have succeeded.

    There are only two “routes.”

    One is that the Left overplays its hand and provokes a sufficiently severe and effective reaction. This is possible.

    The second is that the Roger Simons of the world use their considerable intelligence and wisdom to address the high information voter. That is unlikely. It will take too long, although who knows.

    The lack of results in either regard is what we are facing imminently.

  8. southpaw Says:

    JJ – I agree with your idea about corporate governance needing to change and keeping it objective. It’s not only possible to pack a board of directors with cronies, it’s S.O.P.
    And although I am not in favor of government setting pay limits on CEOs, the longer you’re around the people who get promoted to the inner circle, the more apparent it is most of them could be replaced with a ham sandwich and nobody would notice. The crony packed boards perpetuate the inflated salary and bonus structures. I am continually amazed at the the mediocrity that makes up the upper echelons of the corporate world (my experience anyway)- the old adage “it’s who you know” was never more true.
    That’s not to say that some CEOs aren’t worth every penny – some are very good, but a greater percentage are way over-compensated when you look at their performances, and as you point out, some are just looters – the leadership at Enron got caught, but there many who get away with it.

  9. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    Liberals are, measured objectively, the most ignorant political category. Leftists the most mendacious. Leftists come in two flavors; the Stalin archetype, the unapologetic power seeking like Rahm Emanuel and the Lenin archetype, for whom the ruthless means they promote are justified by the ends sought, i.e. the Piketty’s of the world and the Sarah Conly’s who justify “Coercive Paternalism”.

    Leftist policies of over regulation and Keynesian economics have reached their tipping point in devastating the growth of the middle class, indeed they are shrinking it.

    As their ignorance and mendacity further manifest, increasingly the dependent class and ‘the rich’ grow. The dependency class in quantity of numbers and the rich in abundance. The left is literally creating a nation solely consisting of ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’.

    Left unchecked, seizing ever greater amounts of the rich’s assets and income is the only way to keep socialism’s Ponzi scheme from collapse. But eventually, due to their nature, all socialistic Ponzi schemes collapse, when even the rich who are not part of the governing elite are no more.

    That is when unapologetic tyranny that revels in its brutality arises. It has ever been so, like the scorpion, it is its nature.

    By their fruits shall ye know them.

  10. Cornhead Says:

    George Orwell was a fairly good prophet too.

  11. Doom Says:

    Now you are beginning to catch the tail end of the beginning of the notion. When you finally see how deep it is… I doubt if you understood, at all, when you were in it.

    Tips and icebergs. And why so many are so concerned.

  12. T Says:

    JJ (@7:06),

    “My solution to the problem calls for most boards to be composed of real outsiders.” I agree and have been saying the same for quite some time (I believe on this blog in a much earlier post). The primary problem is corporate inbreeding at the board level. I sit on your board, you sit on mine. We’re all chummy and I vote perks and $$ for you because I know that you will then vote for perks and $$ for me.

    Let me also offer another speculative observation about the good “moderates” revealing themselves as leftists. The best thing to happen to this country from the Obama experience is that the masks are coming off. They feel safe. It’s almost like finding out that your neighbor that you liked and respected and who treated your kids nicely has suddenly been revealed as a child molester (“I never thought such a thing could happen here!”). I’m hoping that people who, heretofore, have given such “moderates” the benefit of the doubt are coming to realize just how un-moderate they truly are.

  13. J.J. Says:

    I wrote this back in 2008:
    “I believe that a minimally regulated capitalistic economy offers the best opportunity to live a good life to the greatest number of people. The fundamental conditions needed are: A reasonably honest representative government. Ownership of private property backed by courts. Methods of transferring legal title to property from one owner to another. An honest and well-funded banking system. As little regulation as necessary to maintain honesty and integrity in the business world. This plan has been tested in several places since the end of WWII. South Korea versus North Korea, West Germany versus East Germany, and Taiwan versus Red China to mention a few. In all cases the capitalistic economies delivered better health, more wealth, and more freedom. If someone has a better idea, please, share it with the world.”

    Piketty’s idea as shared in his book, will not deliver. High taxes and central planning motivate producers to avoid taxes and regulations. That means they either go Galt or move to a more favorable business environment. Both result in less wealth creation in the high tax, centrally planned economy.

  14. T Says:

    JJ,

    ” A reasonably honest representative government.” Since all organizations are corruptible and as they grow they tend toward more corruption, this means, of course, keeping the govt as constrained as possible (a la the Founding Fathers).

    Geoffrey Britain,

    Well stated.

  15. Ann Says:

    I’m more and more of the mind that all that’s happening now is not the result of heavy-duty plotting on the part of leftists. Rather, it’s more due to what Daniel Henninger talks about in his latest WSJ (behind the pay wall) column on the canonization of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, in which he says this:

    It is inconceivable that Pope John and the cardinals who assembled to gently open their church’s windows could have known in 1962 that a centuries-old Western culture was about to be blown apart. No one knew. As another poet sang in 1965: “Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones ?” The more relevant question would have been: Where is this going?

    The 1960s was a decade of mass politics and mass marketing on a scale without precedent. It never stopped—demonstrations, assassinations, urban terrorists, and the drugs, movies, music and fashion that celebrated (and sold) all of it. Amid this mayhem, the U.S. also passed the Civil Rights Act. As relevant, the U.S. Supreme Court in the early ’60s said simple prayers in public schools had to stop; indeed, its 1971 “Lemon test” said any public activity must have a “secular purpose.”

    With the dams of tradition burst, the new forces of insistent secularism swept forward in a torrent. Governments, universities, the churches and schools never knew what hit them. They had been the center, society’s cement. But they had become big, overstuffed bureaucracies, including the Vatican. They got rolled. And then a lot of them hopped on the wave.

    The French guy, Piketty, was born in 1971, after it all started coming down. He looked around and the only Big Secular Thing for “society’s cement” he could hang his hat on was Marxism, I guess.

  16. rickl Says:

    As French economists go, Piketty is not fit to wipe Bastiat’s derrière.

  17. Surellin Says:

    So, M. Piketty wishes to appropriate savings. Ya know what happens? All those investments that actually create more wealth suddenly disappear and the price of gold goes through the roof. The redistiributionists would have more trouble digging up your backyard pot of gold than grabbing your investment portfolio. So, less investment overall, less wealth creation, and a lot more of the economy “off the books”. Well done!

  18. southpaw Says:

    Surellin- yes that’s one result and the other is a large percentage see no value in saving. They spend it all and let their government “care”for them in their old age. Just like a lot of citizens of socialist economies currently behave. Which is probably one intended consequence of confiscatory tax policy.

  19. kcom Says:

    The redistiributionists would have more trouble digging up your backyard pot of gold than grabbing your investment portfolio.

    Which means they need more bureaucracy and more police to keep tabs on things and look for things. And freedom is eroded further.

  20. T Says:

    “They’ll turn us all into beggars because they’re easier to please.” Sic semper socialism.

  21. Hogarth Kramer Says:

    “the definition of “higher” could increase significantly over time.”

    As would the definition of “rich,” which would decrease significantly over time. See also: Alternative Minimum Tax.

  22. DNW Says:

    20 Responses to “All those objective moderates who love Piketty’s book…”

    Eric Says:
    April 23rd, 2014 at 5:27 pm

    Once again, proof of the effectiveness of the activist method in normalizing and stigmatizing social value sets in the general will and collective consciousness.

    What was normal “20 years ago – or even 10″ was a manufactured social product then.

    What will be normal 10 or 20 years hence will be social products manufactured by activists.

    It’s the only social-political game there is.”

    Although we have had disagreements on certain levels, I am in fundamental agreement with the thrust of what you are saying.

    And as a result I am left stupefied that we (as the class of non-progressives) keep repeating the same themes and announcing and re-announcing the same “discoveries” and symptomologies.

    It is as if the conservative person is congenitally hardwired, constitutionally incapable, of really hearing what the liberal says he believes about reality, or bearing it in mind as applying even to the liberal, much less to anyone else.

    Thus, like dogs chasing our tails we argue and speculate about what “rights” must mean mean to people who have plainly stated that they do not believe that “rights” have any objective existence. We puff in outraged disbelief that some would violate the sacred laws of human nature and liberty, when the fact is that those who do so violate these “laws”, assert that no fact of “human nature”, insofar as they grant the term has any meaning at all, implies anything in the moral realm in any event.

    They tell us to our faces that they are fundamentally nihilists, and that the will to power and self- “creation” (not deduction and inference and alignment with a natural order) against a backdrop of moral chaos constitutes the core of their worldview and anthropology.

    And then, after we have been told this a million times over we still stare incomprehendingly at one another and ask: “How can they do and say such things?”

    Are conservatives fucking stupid? I don’t know. But it seems that they would rather die than give up the illusion that the leftist as he has deliberately made himself, is still a moral fellow. Or, a human in any traditionally meaningful sense. The conservative would apparently rather die a victim of a self-deconstructed bag of appetites than give up the wan hope that somewhere down there in the progressive, among the jumble of urges loosely floating around like fragments of DNA in a wrecked cell … there is still someone recognizable in there.

    I suppose that the alternative is just too terrifying for them to live with. They tremble at the prospect of saying to the self-proclaimed soulless thing: “I see you are a soulless thing”

    And perhaps they are right after all. Maybe God told them that there is a there there to the liberal nihilist appetite thing.

    I hope so. For in that case their repeatedly taking a seat just as the chair is pulled from beneath them, takes on the aspect at least of tragedy, rather than mere farce.

  23. kcom Says:

    Some of you have no doubt heard of the academic paper by psychologist Stephen Lewandowsky that purported (but failed) to show that those skeptical of the theory of man-made global warming are also much more likely to believe in conspiracy theories. For the study, he distributed a survey online that asked the survey takers about their agreement or disagreement with various aspects of specific conspiracy theories. The only result of statistical significance (as far as I recall) that he got was there was a correspondence between those who were skeptical of man-made global warming and those who were supportive of the free market system. Since when is the free market system a “conspiracy”? But the questions about it were right in there alongside questions about 9/11, the JFK assassination, Area 51, etc. I was floored and yet I didn’t see anyone discussing the survey even comment about the absurdity of it. The professor was based in Australia when he wrote the paper so I was wondering if the questions or the terms meant something different to people there than to me. But it seems that, to a certain segment of the population, lumping capitalism in with various conspiracy theories is already something that is taken as a given. Like I said, I was floored.

    I can see how someone can be antipathetic to capitalism and the free market (even though it’s the only system that’s ever moved large numbers of people from poverty to prosperity) but that’s a political disagreement. It’s got nothing to do with Area 51 or who killed Princess Diana.

  24. blert Says:

    There is a conspiracy to create income inequality. It’s called Congress.

    The truly hyper-wealthy — as a rule — are riding Big Government’s coattails — one way or another.

    The way to gut their wealth is to gut their Big Government connection.

    Budget cuts would do that.

    %%%

    The hyper wealthy cash in a capital gains rates.

    Gates
    Buffett

    They also hold, de facto, monopoly positions in the business world.

    Cronyism allows them to carry on their good works.

    $$$

    Marx’s plaint against capitalists omits mortality.

    God resets the table.

    Even corporations, eternal, can’t stay at the top of the greasy pole. I offer United States Steel as proof.

    ###

    Economic philosophy from a Frenchman — that’s rich.

    The Enarques run that place!

  25. blert Says:

    IIRC, Marx never entered a single factory in his life.

    The great genius never comprehended that the Capitalist Revolution consisted of machines replacing human labor.

    While his manifesto was first published (and remained pretty obscure) in 1848, it had absolutely nothing to do with the mass civil disorders of that time.

    Marx drafted his missive largely on the basis of the 1830s, and the textile glut created by the newly installed mills which upset craft labor everywhere they spooled up.

    De facto, the new looms dis-employed housewives from coast to coast. Now largely forgotten, in Colonial times, every housewife was a ‘Betsy Ross’ textile factory in every spare waking moment. Cotton and wool really were spun in the home.

    &&&

    3-D printing and robotics are going to take this dis-employment trend into a higher gear.

    For obvious market scale reasons, the labor that’s going to be dis-employed is centered on the 90 IQ crowd.

    So the man with the vision would appear to be H G Wells.

    He did get one thing backwards.

    The beautiful people end up harvesting the proles.

  26. T Says:

    Blert,

    Just a couple responses to your two posts above. Yes, there is always an upper echelon which seeks to control the govt to influence the govt to do the bidding of the top 1%. It happened that way in Europe with the landed aristocracy and it happens in the U.S. with the moneyed gentry (corporations and the super wealthy) using their influence to restrict or eliminate their competition. In truth, they don’t want the lower classes entering their play space. My father used to call the middle class “crowders” because they stood to crowd out the potential of the children of the 1% many of whom were gentlemen ‘C’ level intellects and producers.

    Secondly, w/ regard to Marx. One of the things that Marx did not foresee was that the lower classes, his proletariat, would also advance through capitalism along with the elite. That’s why the proletariat revolutions never occurred naturally, as Marx said the eventually would, but had to be agitated for by the likes of a Lenin or a Mao. That’s also why today’s left has to manufacture the concept of “income inequality.” their fundamental and false premise is that there is something wrong with it just because it exists. They further want to imply that wealth is attained through greed as if the simple act of being greedy will alone cause/force people to give you their money, as Thomas Sowell so clearly points out.

    They must do this to manufacture a (false) moral imperative to an otherwise immoral goal — their control of everyone who is not them.

  27. Beverly Says:

    Huey Long was mighty successful in the 1930s peddling his “Soak the Rich!” campaign in Lousy-anna.

    Hard times bring the rich-haters out of the woodwork. (Full disclosure: I’m not rich; I’m an Art Bum.) And the demagogues take full advantage of this.

  28. Beverly Says:

    Just a thought: If you find yourself in a conversation with a Leftist who’s holding forth on this program, and you know he has more money than you, just smile, lean forward, and abstract his wallet: open it and remove 80% of the contents, then hand it back.

    Lagniappe? grin like a possum.

  29. Marketplace of Ideas | Daily Economy Says:

    […] you’ve read a newspaper, magazine, or economics-oriented blog post in the last few weeks, you’ve probably seen the name Thomas Piketty. He’s a French economist […]

  30. greenjay Says:

    A couple of thoughts: First both the libertarian Greenspan and the liberal Bernanke printed money with abandon. There were few places to invest all this so the recipients, investment bankers primarily, put it into bubbles. The bubbles are behind the statistics on inequality. A solution to consider would be “helicopter Ben’s” idea of printing money and showering it on ordinary people.

    Seriously, though, do not despair. A few years ago the media swooned over OWS. What happened – nothing. OWS’s ideals and solutions were totally utopian and impractical. The utopians promoted Obama, a many of no useful experience who promised to stop the seas from rising. What has he accomplished – nothing. The next president will be a more sober individual. A couple of decades ago the media and the intellectuals swooned over global warming. They saw it as their ticket to world domination since only total control of the economy could stop this menace. Now it is fizzling out and nothing will be heard of it in a few years. Sooner or later these utopians have to produce results.

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