Jonah Goldberg's Excellent Take-Down of Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century

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Piketty
wn.com

New York Times columnist and economics Nobelist Paul Krugman showered encomiums on French economist Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century calling it a "magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality" and "an awesome work." While noting some flaws, the Washington Post's financial reporter Steven Pearlstein nevertheless hailed the book as "an intellectual tour de force, a triumph of economic history." Timothy Shenk at The Nation gushed, "Stands a fair chance of becoming the most influential work of economics yet published in our young century." And these are just a three of the plethora of over-the-top accolades that can be gleaned from the reviews cited on the book's Amazon page

If the response to Piketty's book proves anything, it confirms that intellectuals really, really hate the rich.

Now that the initial furor has died down a bit, Jonah Goldberg has written a thoughtful analysis of the book and its reception over at Commentary. In his article, "Mr. Piketty's Big Book of Marxiness," Goldberg does a thorough job of reviewing the various criticisms of how Piketty has (mis)interpreted history and economic data. Goldberg also shows that most Americans disagree with President Obama's assertion last December that a "a dangerous and growing inequality … is the defining challenge of our time." To the contrary, Goldberg reports…

…in May, when Gallup asked voters what they saw as "the most important problem facing this country today," a mere 3 percent volunteered the gap between rich and poor … A poll in January conducted by McLaughlin & Associates (for the YG Network) found that Americans by a margin of 2:1 (64 percent to 33 percent) prefer expanding economic growth to narrowing the gap between rich and poor. In 1990, Gallup asked Americans whether the country benefits from having a class of rich people. Sixty-two percent said yes. In 2012, 63 percent said yes.

It seems that most Americans simply want a fair shake. They don't really begrudge the success of others, and to the extent they do, they don't want to do much about it. It's hard to see how any of this amounts to an inequality-driven powder keg of social unrest waiting to explode.

So again, who resents the rich? Intellectuals. As Goldberg nicely explains:

Piketty is a member of the ruling class. Piketty's way puts Piketty and his friends in charge of everything. A one-time adviser to the Socialist politician Se?gole?ne Royal, a star academic and a columnist for Libe?ration, Piketty is a quintessential member of what the econo- mist Joseph Schumpeter identified as the "new class." Schumpeter's prediction of capitalism's demise hinged on his brilliant insight that capitalism breeds anti-capitalist intellectuals. Educators, bureaucrats, lawyers, technocrats, journalists, and artists, often the children of successful capitalists, always raised in the material affluence of capitalism, would organize to form a class whose collective interest lay in seizing economic decisions from the free market. As Deirdre McCloskey writes: "Schumpeter believed that capitalism was raising up its own grave diggers—not in the proletariat, as Marx had expected, but in the sons of daughters of the bourgeoisie itself. Lenin's father, after all, was a high- ranking educational official, and Lenin himself a law- yer. It wasn't the children of auto workers who pulled up the paving stones on the Left Bank in 1968." No, it was actually people like Piketty's own parents…

Piketty's argument, with its scientific veneer and authoritative streams of numbers, is a warrant to empower those who think they are smarter than the market—and who feel superior to those most richly rewarded by it.

Goldberg's whole article is well worth your attention.

For more background, see my articles, "Why President Obama is Wrong on Income Inequality," and "Obama's 'Opportunity' Makes Everybody Less Well Off."

Disclosure: Jonah and I have been friends for nearly two decades.

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  1. Timothy Shenk at The Nation gushed, “Stands a fair chance of becoming the most influential work of economics yet published in our young century.”

    “Gushed”? Sounds more like damning with faint praise.

  2. Contest!

    Who said “What we have learned is that the person who can do the job doesn’t have a particular race or gender or background or socioeconomic status”?

    1. Hint: Pay careful attention to the wording.

      1. You did an excellent job translating that from the original Shyriiwook.

    2. Thomas Piketty Sowell?

      No idea, really. but Sowell has a penchant for overconstructed elaboration.

      1. Taaaaaaaaaaags

        Thomas Piketty Sowell?

        No idea, really. but Sowell has a penchant for overconstructed elaboration.

    3. *Not* a porn director casting a gay-for-pay.

  3. That it is the children of the comfortable and wealthy who form the intellectual base of the left explains one constant that I’ve always seen in leftist “solutions”. They ASSUME wealth. After all, one can’t base one’s programs on the distribution of wealth if there is no wealth to distribute. These are people who never had to see their parents walking the floor at night agonizing over where the rent money would come from. Like the children they remain their entire lives, they assume that there will be clean, folded clothes in their dresser when they go to get dressed for the protest. They also assume that money will be there to meet their wants. It never occurs to them that the wealth had to be generated before it could be distributed.

    1. Indeed. Marx, himself, was the offspring of a wealthy lawyer cum vinter and Hegel was the son of a cotton mill owner.

      1. Marx was a a Class A piece of shit in every aspect of his life, his family and personality.

        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yA2lCBJu2Gg

        1. Watched about a minute or two of that, and all I got was that his ideas are wrong because he was a bad person. Same ad hominem argument leftists use against Ayn Rand. Marx’s ideas can be taken down without having to attack him as a person. Rand, not so much.

          1. Clearly you didn’t watch it. It’s a step by step walk through of his biography with precise dates and direct accounts of Marx by himself, contemporary friends, family and rivals.

            I get it, you don’t like ancaps and you love dismissing everything they say out of hand. Thanks for your thoroughly worthless input.

            1. Marx’s ideas can be taken down without having to resort to personal attacks.

              If you must attack him as a person to take down his ideas, then you’re no different than some leftist who points to Ayn Rand’s infidelity as proof the her ideas are all wrong.

              1. Marx’s ideas can be taken down without having to resort to personal attacks.

                And????? See here I thought this was a thread discussing the hypocritical personal histories of these great vindicators of socialism. Seems pretty relevant.

                If you must attack him as a person to take down his ideas, then you’re no different than some leftist who points to Ayn Rand’s infidelity as proof the her ideas are all wrong.

                Burn that strawman, burn him!

                Who said anything about Marx being wrong because he was a piece of shit? It’s an interesting bit of history that helps to put his positions into context. I guess apparently, I’m just a shitty leftist because I dared to discuss the guy’s history in a thread pertaining to the guy’s history.

                If Paul Krugman stopped by the local homeless shelter to urinate on bums every week, that wouldn’t be worth discussing at all since his articles on how to help the homeless suck on their own merit. Great insight as usual, Sarc.

                1. Who said anything about Marx being wrong because he was a piece of shit?

                  The guy in that video you linked. Jeez. Take a sedative.

                  1. The guy in that video you linked. Jeez. Take a sedative.

                    Please provide a citation of Molyneux saying he was wrong specifically because he was a piece of shit. I mean you watched a whole two minutes of it, you’re the expert. Please feel free to append another insult to your citation, I know you can’t help it.

                    1. Please provide a citation…

                      Nah. Not worth the effort.

                      Please feel free to append another insult to your citation, I know you can’t help it.

                      You’re so stupid you don’t understand this joke.

                    2. Nah. Not worth the effort.

                      But you slayed that argument no one made, no one can take that away from you.

                      I typically find you to not be worth the effort. But there’s always the off chance that someone who doesn’t know any better will take you at your poorly reasoned word.

                2. See here I thought this was a thread discussing the hypocritical personal histories of these great vindicators of socialism.

                  It’s not. It was a thread delineating the common privileged background that allows these idiots to navel-gaze about the unfairness of an uncontrolled economy.

            2. Do you know what an ad hominem is? Biography doesn’t matter to the quality of his ideas. His ideas were shit, whether he was an asshole or a saint.

            3. I get it, you don’t like ancaps and you love dismissing everything they say out of hand.

              Um, no. But thank you for being a big baby.

              1. Um, no. But thank you for being a big baby.

                It never takes you very long to jump headfirst into name calling. Thanks for not disappointing.

                1. You’re the one who feels it’s personal. That I’m dismissing you because you’re an ancap. I don’t know if you’re hungover, haven’t gotten laid in a while or what, but it’s time to chill out. Deep breaths.

                  1. Interesting that you of all people accuse me of personally attacking Karl Marx while your favorite method of debate is pretty much just personal attacks. Got anymore?

                    1. Interesting that you of all people accuse me of personally attacking Karl Marx

                      No, I said the guy in the video was.

                      while your favorite method of debate is pretty much just personal attacks.

                      Um, no. Ad hominem is saying you’re a poo-poo head, and therefore your ideas are wrong.

                      That’s different from saying you’re ideas are wrong and that makes you a poo-poo head.

                      Got anymore?

                      Sure. You’re think skinned. You feel everything is personal. Your reading comprehension sucks. And you smell like a rotten turnip.

                    2. Um, no. Ad hominem is saying you’re a poo-poo head, and therefore your ideas are wrong.

                      That’s called name calling, it’s one type of ad Hominem. Ad Hominem is any line of debate where you attack the person you are arguing instead of the topic. And you can’t seem to help yourself from levying personal insults against me in almost every post (there’s your opportunity to call me a big baby again).

                      But see if I were as thin skinned or a big baby or whatever other characterization of me you choose to make, I’d be responding with my own personal attack directed at you. But I don’t do that. Ad hominem is the crutch of someone with a weak argument or worse. As usual, you choose to show the world how little thought you’ve put in. Best regards.

                    3. But see if I were as thin skinned or a big baby or whatever other characterization of me you choose to make, I’d be responding with my own personal attack directed at you.

                      You were crying that I dismissed you because you’re an ancap. That’s being a big baby.

                      “Waaaah! He won’t listen to me because I’m an ancap! Waaaah!”

                      Whatever. Go do some research on what ad hominem means. Oh, wait. If I ask you to then you definitely won’t. I’ll try reverse psychology.

                      PLEASE! FOR THE LOVE OF PETE! DON’T RESEARCH AD HOMINEM OR ANY OTHER FALLACIES! DON’T DO IT!

                    4. And whatever you do, don’t try to understand the difference between ad hominem and insult. Just keep on believing they’re the same thing. Because it makes you look so high and mighty when you accuse someone who is insulting you of using an ad hominem. It doesn’t make you look like an idiot. It makes you look really smart.

                    5. Jesus!! Somebody needs to get laid. I’m just sayin’.

                    6. Referring to the shameless threadjack by FS and Sarcasmic.

      2. Er, what relevance has Hegel?

    2. I like to call it the “allowance from my rich parents” view of the economy.

  4. The intolerable sin of capitalism is that it fails to adequately reward and empower intellectuals.

    1. “If you so smart, why ain’t you Rich, er, *rich*”?

      1. If Rich so smart, why ain’t he punctuate right?

    2. How is it righteous or just that a man who got lucky divining where oil might be found, and then set about digging it up, should be wealthier by far than a man of Pikett’s intellectual rigor? Such iniquities must be set right?for the people, of course.

      1. Clearly your sarcasm is under the impression that oil is found by drilling a lot of holes until one gushes. That’s far more expensive and time consuming than say, studying the geology of the region, comparing it with other areas where oil has been found and calculating the zones most likely to yield hydrocarbons, but that is work done by educated intellectuals who don’t whine about ‘fair share’ in op-eds.

        Perhaps we should find some remedial courses your sarcasm can take.

        1. I said it’s for the people, didn’t I??

          If you didn’t catch it already, Russ Roberts’ interview with Gregory Zuckerman about fracking and modern-day wildcatters is worth the listen. Easily sold me on Zuckerman’s book.

  5. “If the response to Piketty’s book proves anything, it confirms that intellectuals really, really hate the rich.”

    Also, that the New York Times thinks the truth is a popularity contest, and that they get to decide who wins.

    1. 97% of experts* agree that the NY Times is the expert and should be unquestioningly followed.

      *From a survey of NY Times editors.

      1. The lone heretic has since been fired.

        1. Also, the HR person who approved the heretic’s hiring has been sacked.

  6. …”It’s hard to see how any of this amounts to an inequality-driven powder keg of social unrest waiting to explode.”…

    Pipes and Figes both do a pretty good job on the Russian revolution and its immediate aftermath; one emphasizes this fact, the other focuses elsewhere. It is obvious in the reading that while both deplore the revolution, Pipes makes no bones about interpreting it as a disaster caused by bad policy and power-hungry assholes, while Figes seems to be looking for ways to do it better next time.
    The epilogues make it clear. Pipes says ‘never again!’, Figes says ‘well we’re gonna have to hand over dough if we don’t want a disaster’.
    Piketty and Figes both see socialism as nothing more than a protection racket and neither is shy of saying so.

  7. The one area where Schumpeter might be wrong: The next generation may turn on their socialist parents too. Hopefully, anyway.

    1. I’m not so certain of that. It’s a far smaller intuitive leap from “our policy failed” to “we simply didn’t spend enough” than it is to “something is intrinsically wrong with our mode of thinking.” And by the time a backlash against socialistic policymaking develops, the institutions of law and commerce may be irreconcilably damaged.

      1. Especially when the answer to “we didn’t spend enough” is other people’s money, rather than their own.

      2. The true saving grace may be the low birth rates of socialist.

        1. No you’re seeing the low birth rates of whites who don’t vote in their own best interest.

          1. That you, ‘Murkin?

            1. I believe he is making reference to the lefty snobbery of saying that poor people who don’t vote for socialism are voting “against their own interests”.

              I’m being charitable in assuming that he is using “whites” because after the latest election, poor blacks appear to be firmly on the plantation where lefties think they belong.

              Of course, electoral realities change, and Poe’s Law always applies.

  8. “Intellectuals” and I use the term loosely, because these people are not defined by true intellect but by academic “accomplishment” and by approval of other, typically cosmopolitan, “intellectuals”, creating a self perpetuating cycle, are the new aristocrats. Like the aristocracy, they believe that they have an inherent, God-given right to rule over others. And when those others disagree, the intellectuals, like the German aristocracy in the 1800s did to the rising Jewish middle class, turn nasty.

    Just thank god the intellectuals don’t control the guns- yet. They find them far too icky to hold them themselves.

    1. That’s the key fact separating the intellectuals from aristocracy. The latter gained and held their position via applied violence, not sophistry.

      Intellectuals today are the equivalent of pre-modern Europe’s clergy. Sycophants to the powerful, providing moral cover for personal privilege.

      1. Intellectuals today are the equivalent of pre-modern Europe’s clergy. Sycophants to the powerful, providing moral cover for personal privilege.

        Golden. Great point.

      2. “Sycophants to the powerful, providing moral cover for personal privilege.”

        You can find plenty of sycophantic clergy, but you can also find St. Ambrose excommunicating the Emperor Theodosius, Popes and bishops going into exile rather than surrender the rights of the Church, the Truce of God movement, etc.

  9. a mere 3 percent volunteered the gap between rich and poor

    Not even 8%, then.

    This is all you need to know:

    Piketty’s way puts Piketty and his friends in charge of everything.

    Its all about resentment. And greed. It drives them absolutely batshit nuts that, since they are the smartest people ever to grace our planet, that they aren’t also the richest and most powerful.

  10. Schumpeter’s theory sort of dovetails with another theory I’ve heard for a long time, which is that class war is actually the upper middle class trying to tear down the upper class and take their place. That would fit with the children of moderately wealthy people (but not extremely wealthy) looking at the fact that they almost made the “most wealthy” cut, but not quite. They didn’t go to the best schools, just very good ones. They don’t have the connections the truly rich do. They see that they’re just one step removed from that top level and it bugs them, and they want to move that last step. And the only way to do that is to remove the people who are already there. Therefore, the hate gets aimed at the (very) rich.

    1. You know, I can totally see that. I think Congress and the upper level bureaucrats embody it.

      1. John Koskinen definitely does. No apologies for IRS harassment because those damn rich kulak apologists deserved to be ground under the government heel.

    2. class war is actually the upper middle class trying to tear down the upper class and take their place

      I don’t know if that’s always the intent, but it has generally been the outcome of class war. The French Revolution created the class of French “notables” that would go on to dominate French society. The Russian Revolution (especially during the Stalinist period) produced upward-climbing bourgeois bureaucrats who are still largely in control of Russia.

    3. I think that Schumpeter, while brilliant, clearly forgot to listen to Machiavelli’s advice about (political, but it can apply to economic) reform.

      Basically, those benefiting from the current system will fight tooth and nail against reform. They know reform will screw them over, or at the very least reduce their power/current standard of living.

      Those who might benefit from reform will be lukewarm towards reform. Sure, they might benefit from reform. But, then again, they might not.

      That’s why Machiavelli advocated enacting reforms quickly. If you give the people benefiting from the current system time, they will organize and kill change.

      1. But then you run into the problem that large parts of society hate you and that the rest is at best cool to you, making your regime unstable. Besides that, quick implementation usually means poor implementation; therefore the least appealing version of your idea emerges and your opponents have a lot of free (and accurate) propaganda to hurl at you. There’s also a base of immediately unemployed people who hate your guts and have time to kill. Generally speaking, that formula does not bode well: either you go Full Metal Bolshevik and kill enough people to make the changes stick and get people to shut up, or you get overthrown.

        Machiavelli’s advice is more applicable to political reform, because politics is malleable in a way that economics is not. If you lost the ability to vote or if your party lost an election tomorrow, you’d probably be a little pissed but you’d get over it. If you lost your job, you’d be dangerous. Ultimately, people don’t care about politics so you can get away with a power grab in that arena. The same isn’t true of economics.

      2. Well, remember that what makes Machiavelli interesting is his complete lack of pretense about having “good intentions”. One of the qualities of leftist political theory for the last almost 200 years is that it’s always couched in some kind of “for the working man” language or “for the collective good”. Of course, we know it’s not, since every time it gets enacted, the common people/workers get shit on incredibly hard, and the elites get everything. But Machiavelli didn’t try to couch his stuff in that kind of language to fool people into thinking it was some kind of uplifting philosophy. He was very…uh…Machiavellian…in his approach. Just what worked to hold or gain power, and why, and no moralizing about it. Very technical and logical. It’s actually kind of refreshing to read something like that without it constantly, desperately trying to convince you that it’s really a political philosophy for the people as opposed to for the powerful.

        1. Fucking squirrels. I wrote a long post agreeing with you. Here I go again.

          Also, it’s interesting the contrast. Both Machiavelli and the progs only care about winning and getting stuff done, but Machiavelli was honest about it.

          A good example of this: While looking to see Gawker’s defense of the IRS’s latest shitstorm (which, as of this weekend, was nonexistent), I found a Gawker article from April about the IRS giving bonuses to workers who owed back taxes. The reaction wasn’t, “This is unacceptable.” The reaction was: “Goddamnit! This will help those damn teabaggers attack the IRS and push for lower taxes on the rich! THANKS A LOT, GUYS! We’re supposed to be on the same team, IRS! Plus, government workers are already underpaid thanks to those damn teathuglicans! CEOs are paid outrageous bonuses too! Tu quoque!… Also, Cliven Bundy is a racist who is stealing government land, which is our land, so he’s stealing from TEH PEOPLEZ!!!” The Cliven Bundy stuff was relevant because it was April, but anyway…

          It’s just stunning how they do not judge actions on their own merits, but rather based on whether it moves the ball forward for TEAM PROG.

    4. …that class war is actually the upper middle class trying to tear down the upper class and take their place.

      Even this is not right.

      The real class war is that of parasites, incapable of providing value, using political means to dominate those that do provide value. The parasites and the uber wealthy get along just fine, doncha know. It’s the people aspiring to wealth that they hate and demonize.

  11. Its all about resentment.

    Sandbox politics. “Bobby has a shovel. I want a shovel. Why don’t I have a shovel? GIMME THAT SHOVEL!”

    1. “Sandbox politics”

      I’m totally stealing that.

      1. I’d recommend going with “playground politics” to avoid confusing computer geeks and video game nerds.

        1. Noted.

    2. I DESERVE is the root of all evil.

  12. That would fit with the children of moderately wealthy people (but not extremely wealthy) looking at the fact that they almost made the “most wealthy” cut, but not quite.

    Sounds like Hillary.

    “I’m not rich. I’m just barely scraping by.”

  13. New York Times columnist and economics Nobelist Paul Krugman

    That’s “Former Enron advisor and VA apologist Paul Krugman” to you, pal.

  14. Goldberg’s bit at Commentary is really good.

    1. It’s a novella. Maybe we can get a thread going tomorrow AM after everyone has had time to read it.

    1. The Onion: so prescient, it doesn’t even wait to put the story on its own pages.

    2. I followed one of their links to this – not too bad either!

      http://www.clickhole.com/blogp…..-human-360

    3. Very good.

  15. Pittskys work is the usual Marxist reboot with a foreign author to give it that exotic veneer that American leftists find so beguiling, but the irony of Jobah Goldberg, professional intellectual and champion if such big government debacles as the Iraq wR, deriding presumptuous intellectuals, is pretty thick

    1. a foreign author to give it that exotic veneer that American leftists find so beguiling

      The author is EUROPEAN!

      *swoon*

      1. I had a friend admit to me that she supported Obama mostly so that her European friends wouldn’t be mean to her.

    2. So, if “intellectuals” aren’t allowed to take down other “intellectuals”, and (I presume) engaging in such intellectual activities as critiquing an intellectual makes you an intellectual, then nobody should be allowed to take down an intellectual?

      Have I got that right, Bo?

  16. Piketty is a member of the ruling class.

    More accurately, Piketty is a member of A ruling class. Goldberg being a member of another. I increasingly feel that when it comes to economic issues, we’re stuck between two groups who, upon discovering that someone’s been cheating at poker, only want to argue whether we should ban poker (Piketty) or legalize cheating (Goldberg).

  17. I’m not sure if it is really captialism that produces anti-capitalist intellectuals.

    I think it’s the grade schools traditional emphasis on Math and English as equally important subjects. We basically teach children that it’s just as “good” to be able to talk about Shakespeare and Dickens, as it is to be able to solve a differential equation. Which is a lie.

    1. I’d agree at the high school level. But earlier on in school English (or Language Arts as it is often called unless they changed it again) is pretty important as it is more about effectively reading and writing than literature and criticism, which I agree should be more elective. And I think it is important to know something about the literary tradition.

    2. Shakespeare being wildly more relevant than differential equations, right?

      Am I misreading that?

    3. Maybe I went to a lesser school, but I don’t recall reading either Shakespeare or Dickens in grade school – at least, not as part of the curriculum. However, I agree that it is a mistake to fawn over some girl who can quote from Ibsen’s more obscure works, but can’t balance her checkbook or add numbers with more than 2 digits.

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