Piketty’s data

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  • #101958

    robbo203
    Participant

    Hello folks, This might sound like a bit of a strange request to make but bear with me and I will explain. The thing is this. For some time now  Ive been engaged in writing what will turn out to be quite a lengthy book.  Most of it has been written  but at the moment I am going through  the stuff I have written to tighten up the arguments here and there and to gather my thoughts, so to speak, for the home stretch. To cut to the chase, the book consists of 9 parts and I am currently revising Part 2 –  "The Capitalist Dynamic" – and in particular, the final chapter of Part 2 which is entitled  "Secular Trends and Crystal Balls".  This chapter substantially addresses the arguments presented by Thomas Picketty in his book Capital in the 21st Century  about the growth of inequality in capitalism (though it also addresses a number of other phenomena such as the growth of unproductive labour and its repercussions for the rate of profit etc). Hence my mentioning this in the context of this thread which  I have dipped into now and then and found most interesting and thought provoking. Now I have to confess I have not read the book and, to be frank,  dont really want to wade through something as long as Picketty's book is when a) I dont really have the time (and I'm a lazy sod anyway!) and b) it is not exactly central to the main thrust of my book.   I have read parts of Picketty's book available online (in particular,  the Introduction), Branko Milanovic's very detailed exposition of the logic of the book, and numerous reviews.  I think all this has given me a reasonably clear  picture about what Picketty's book is about.  However, I am not entirely sure that I might not inadvertently be doing him a disservice by possibly misrepresenting his views in some way. For that reason it occured to me that it might be an idea  to ask people here who have read the book or  know what it is about, to scrutinise this chapter (a copy of which I will send to them privately) and check it for accuracy.  In any event , I would certain welcome the feedback and critical commentary.  You do kind of lose your bearings,  I find, slogging away at the coal face, all on your own. If anyone who is interested in reading the stuff can either message me or email me (robbo203@yahoo.co.uk) I would be very grateful indeed for their input Many thanks in advance for any help you can offer…. Cheers,  Robin

    #101959

    robbo203
    Participant
    robbo203 wrote:
    Hello folks, This might sound like a bit of a strange request to make but bear with me and I will explain. The thing is this. For some time now  Ive been engaged in writing what will turn out to be quite a lengthy book.  Most of it has been written  but at the moment I am going through  the stuff I have written to tighten up the arguments here and there and to gather my thoughts, so to speak, for the home stretch. To cut to the chase, the book consists of 9 parts and I am currently revising Part 2 –  "The Capitalist Dynamic" – and in particular, the final chapter of Part 2 which is entitled  "Secular Trends and Crystal Balls".  This chapter substantially addresses the arguments presented by Thomas Picketty in his book Capital in the 21st Century  about the growth of inequality in capitalism (though it also addresses a number of other phenomena such as the growth of unproductive labour and its repercussions for the rate of profit etc). Hence my mentioning this in the context of this thread which  I have dipped into now and then and found most interesting and thought provoking. Now I have to confess I have not read the book and, to be frank,  dont really want to wade through something as long as Picketty's book is when a) I dont really have the time (and I'm a lazy sod anyway!) and b) it is not exactly central to the main thrust of my book.   I have read parts of Picketty's book available online (in particular,  the Introduction), Branko Milanovic's very detailed exposition of the logic of the book, and numerous reviews.  I think all this has given me a reasonably clear  picture about what Picketty's book is about.  However, I am not entirely sure that I might not inadvertently be doing him a disservice by possibly misrepresenting his views in some way. For that reason it occured to me that it might be an idea  to ask people here who have read the book or  know what it is about, to scrutinise this chapter (a copy of which I will send to them privately) and check it for accuracy.  In any event , I would certain welcome the feedback and critical commentary.  You do kind of lose your bearings,  I find, slogging away at the coal face, all on your own. If anyone who is interested in reading the stuff can either message me or email me (robbo203@yahoo.co.uk) I would be very grateful indeed for their input Many thanks in advance for any help you can offer…. Cheers,  Robin

     No takers, then? 

    #101960

    ALB
    Participant

    Yes,I will read through what you've written on Piketty.  I'll email you as I'm doing a talk on him this Sunday.

    #101961

    robbo203
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    Yes,I will read through what you've written on Piketty.  I'll email you as I'm doing a talk on him this Sunday.

     Thanks Adam.  Its only a rough draft but it would be very helpful to have your thoughts on the matter so I can tighten up the argument here and there.  Much appreciated,  Robin

    #101962

    Dave Chesham
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    Yes,I will read through what you've written on Piketty.  I'll email you as I'm doing a talk on him this Sunday.

    http://www.worldsocialism.org/spgb/event/have-you-read-piketty

    #101963

    anonymous
    Member

    Just in case you don't already know,  for a subscription of £7.50 for 'Kindle Unlimited' you can get many books for nothing, including Pickety

    #101964

    robbo203
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    Yes,I will read through what you've written on Piketty.  I'll email you as I'm doing a talk on him this Sunday.

     Didnt get the email unfortunately. If you give me your addy, Ill send the stuff over . Cheers R

    #101965

    alanjjohnstone
    Participant

    The review you all been waiting for – the world's richest man on Pikettyhttp://www.gatesnotes.com/Books/Why-Inequality-Matters-Capital-in-21st-Century-Review(And do you know, he doesn't even understand that it is only through his wealth and power he gets a personal one on one Skype interview with Piketty – the SPGB certainly wouldn't have that privilege of access)Of course Gates doesn't see himself as a problem since he invests his wealth in productive industry and philanthropy…not like those other capitalist parasites.

    #101966

    J Surman
    Participant

    Those following this thread will probably have seen this one already:http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2014/patnaik171014.htmlIt's too long and complicated for me but I particularly like the conclusion:"Piketty's suggestion for wealth taxation, as a transitional demand, is unexceptionable.  I say "transitional demand" because it cannot possibly be realized without a significant mobilization, not just of world public opinion, but of the forces of class resistance against growing wealth inequality, for which it is useful as a consciousness-raising demand; but precisely when such mobilization has occurred on a scale large enough to make a difference on the terrain of wealth taxation, this very mobilization would have shifted people's demand to a terrain beyond wealth taxation, to the abolition of the capitalist system altogether.The tragedy of all such demands, like for a progressive wealth taxation, is that they make sense (as non-transitional demands) only if they can be easily accomplished, i.e. without any need for a massive mobilization; but they are not in fact easily accomplished, which is why when the massive mobilization does occur because of which they could be accomplished, this very mobilization pushes the demand beyond mere wealth taxation.Michal Kalecki, who had shown as early as in 1937 that capital taxation, which served to reduce inequality in society, was also the best way to finance government expenditure for raising employment in the economy, had ended his essay by saying: "It is difficult to believe however that capital taxation will ever be applied for this purpose on a large scale; for it may seem to undermine the principle of private property."9  He had gone on to quote a part of Joan Robinson's remarkably insightful comment: "Any government which had the power and the will to remedy the major defects of the capitalist system would have the will and power to abolish it altogether, while governments which have the power to retain the system lack the will to remedy its defects."10  While reading Piketty we should not forget this basic insight of Joan Robinson."

    #101967

    LBird
    Participant
    J Surman wrote:
    "Michal Kalecki, who had shown as early as in 1937 that capital taxation, which served to reduce inequality in society, was also the best way to finance government expenditure for raising employment in the economy, had ended his essay by saying: "It is difficult to believe however that capital taxation will ever be applied for this purpose on a large scale; for it may seem to undermine the principle of private property."9 

    Kalecki was wrong: the 'application of large scale capital taxation', which did not 'undermine the principle of private property', was successfully tried, as Piketty's book itself details, by fighting World Wars 1 and 2.This both 'reduced inequality' and 'raised employment'.

    J Surman wrote:
    "He had gone on to quote a part of Joan Robinson's remarkably insightful comment: "Any government which had the power and the will to remedy the major defects of the capitalist system would have the will and power to abolish it altogether, while governments which have the power to retain the system lack the will to remedy its defects."10  While reading Piketty we should not forget this basic insight of Joan Robinson."

    Once again, Robinson was proved wrong, according to Piketty.The 'major defects of the capitalist system' can always be 'remedied', without 'abolishing it altogether', by recourse to heavy taxation of the rich, massive government spending, and full employment, all without damaging the 'principle of private property'.Piketty shows that wars achieve these ends.The rich accept the taxation of themselves, for 'national' ends, but it doesn't threaten their essential property.Piketty's book says all this; so why he didn't draw revolutionary conclusions from his own arguments, only he can know.Personally, I blame academics and their closeting: in my opinion, many are none too bright to start with, and are simply selected by the methods of society which suit their social origins (academia is not a meritocracy), and their ever-shrinking focus on ever-smaller issues, means that they simply can't see the whole picture.Has anyone here ever spoken to academic economists? I have, and it's very enlightening.Not about 'economics', but about why Piketty can't see the woods of 'political economy' for the trees of 'economics'.

    #101968

    ALB
    Participant

    That article puts the classic, absurd case for "transitional demands", where a vanguard party campaigns on a demand that it knows is unrealisable so that the workers can learn this through experience (of failure). But, as Joan Robinson is quoted in the article as saying, if a government (that's her term, we'd say the working class) is strong enough to impose, say, heavy penal taxation on the rich it (they) would also be strong enough to abolish the whole capitalist system. So why not campaign directly for this (socialism) in the first place? Trotskyist answer: because the mass of workers are incapable of understanding the direct case for socialism and can only follow such slogans as "tax the rich".But, to return to Piketty, after listening to this talk he gave earlier this month (it's 40 minutes from the 8th minute on) I see that he is now saying that the r (rate of return), in his "fundamental structural contradiction of capitalism" that where r is greater than g (rate of growth of GDP per head of population) then the inequality in the ownership of wealth will increase, is the rate after tax.  The book gives the impression that it was before tax.But that changes everything. It means that he is no longer trying to state a basic economic law of capitalism but that his formula already includes provision for the reformist political measures he proposes of an increase in taxes on returns from capital as a means of stopping the "economic law" he claims to have discovered from operating and of overcoming the "contradiction of capitalism" he thinks he has identified. Talk about begging the question (in its proper sense) !

    #101969

    LBird
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    But, as Joan Robinson is quoted in the article as saying, if a government (that's her term, we'd say the working class) is strong enough to impose, say, heavy penal taxation on the rich it (they) would also be strong enough to abolish the whole capitalist system.

    I prefer to use her term, ALB. She says 'government', not 'proletariat'.And, in her terms, she was wrong. To take an example, a strongly 'nationalist' government, perhaps even a future more rabid UKIP one, would be 'strong enough to impose heavy penal taxation on the rich', for nationalist war aims (obviously described as 'defensive', as were the recent ones in Iraq and Afghanistan as defending us against 'terror'), without being 'strong enough to abolish the whole capitalist system'.Piketty's real message is clear enough, to me, at least.Bloody big wars reinvigorate capitalism, and the methods and consequences are acceptable to the rich.He's laying the basis, inadvertently, of course, for our case.If workers don't want to put on those uniforms, once again, and kill other workers, they have to reject capitalism.Our problem is a movement that thinks that 'material circumstances' talk to humans. Whilst it retains that philosophy, it won't take the necessary steps to build a conscious workers' movement, because it believes that ideas, propaganda and education are not the basis of the change. Whilst we keep pretending that consciousness emerges from material circumstances, we will continue to be irrelevant.

    #101970

    ALB
    Participant

    Fair enough. It was just an example. Maybe penal taxation on the rich isn't really an unrealisable "transitional demand" but a practicable reform under certain circumstances. It still remains true, though, that if the working class was strong enough to impose this it could also be strough enough to abolish capitalist ownership of the means of production altogether. All the effort to get the working class to demand that the rich be taxed till the pips squeak would have been better directed to get them to abolish capitalism. Certainly the socialist movement should built itself up on this basis not of demanding reforms, unrealisable or no.

    #101971

    LBird
    Participant
    ALB wrote:
    All the effort to get the working class to demand that the rich be taxed till the pips squeak would have been better directed to get them to abolish capitalism. Certainly the socialist movement should built itself up on this basis not of demanding reforms, unrealisable or no.

    I couldn't agree more, ALB, and this is what I thought that the SPGB would have its philosophy based upon. That is, ideas are the basis of, and key to, the change.I don't want to resurrect the debate, and stir up the religious fanatics once again, but 'material circumstances' won't tell us that this is what is required. The 'rocks' don't talk to us, and unless we attempt to explain our case, rather than assuming it is 'obvious' due to 'material circumstances', then the explanation of 'material circumstances' that will be accepted, will be the louder, better organised, simpler one, of UKIP (for example).We should be able to simplify Marx's ideas, to then organise their dissemination within the working class, and then to watch our case grow louder as more workers 'come to consciousness' of their 'material conditions'.What's more, is that, if we explain what Piketty is actually saying, some bourgeois thinkers are making at least half of our case for us.The problem is, many prefer to adore Piketty as an academic, rather than to criticise his nonsensical recommendations and to slate him as a 'bourgeois thinker', and simplify his immense tome.We should be laughing at Piketty, and pitying his inability to draw proper conclusions 'from his data', rather than giving him respect as an academic. We should be consciously working to undermine the thinkers of the bourgeoisie, rather than paying them any respect whatsoever. I think most workers can soon understand that Piketty, like the rest of them, is a bluffer.Unfortunately, their bluffs put us in uniform. Piketty says as much, if read from a conscious Communist/Socialist perspective, rather than from the mythical 'open-minded' view of liberal academics.

    #101972

    Dave Chesham
    Participant
    LBird wrote:
    Our problem is a movement that thinks that 'material circumstances' talk to humans. Whilst it retains that philosophy, it won't take the necessary steps to build a conscious workers' movement, because it believes that ideas, propaganda and education are not the basis of the change. Whilst we keep pretending that consciousness emerges from material circumstances, we will continue to be irrelevant.

    I have a certain amount of sympathy for your position; in fact I've been having a protracted discussion with someone on this very point over on Facebook.  Although this particular individual claims to be a communist he insists that the class struggle alone will be the basis for the change without the need for education by an external 'elite', by which he means, in this instance, the SPGB.What would your response to this person be?

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