…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.