Marxist blues again

The visit of French economist Thomas Piketty to the United States has not quite induced Beatlemania, Scott Winship writes at Forbes, but rather the Washington analogue of teenage frenzy. In the New York Times, Jennifer Schuessler might lend credence to the Beatlemania that Winship disclaims. “Economist receives rock star treatment,” Schuessler reports.

Indeed, you can see the frenzy through the New York Times alone. Yesterday’s Times brought us Ross Douthat’s op-ed column on Piketty, as well as Steven Erlanger’s profile. And that, unfortunately, is not all.

Piketty is the author of a big new book on economic inequality. Liberals have the fever and Piketty has the cure. In case you haven’t guessed, it has something to do with turning the dial on income and wealth taxes to 11.

Among the good takes on Piketty’s book that I have come across so far are Allan Meltzer’s (“The United States of Envy”), Scott Winship’s (“Whither the bottom 90 percent, Mr. Piketty?”) and Kevin Hassett’s (“Remarks on Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century'”).

As I get it, by Piketty’s lights, the world wars of the twentieth century had a previously undiscovered virtue. They had the virtue of retarding the growth of economic inequality. What the world wars did incidentally, Piketty now seeks to do intentionally through tax policy, and the man has met the moment. I’m afraid attention must be paid.

JOHN adds: See also Clive Crook’s take, “The Most Important Book Ever Is All Wrong.”

UPDATE: A French reader adds: “You might like to know that Thomas Piketty was accused of physical abuse in 2009 by his former girlfriend (now the French Minister for Culture), who filed an official complaint against him. Imagine if he were a right-wing, free-market economist. Would that bit of old news go unnoticed by the MSM—whether the accusation was justified or not? I think we know the answer to that.” Link here.

This harks back to Marx along with the gist of Piketty’s deep thoughts. As Paul Johnson writes in Intellectuals, among Marx’s distasteful personal attributes were “his taste for violence, his appetite for power, his inability to handle money, and, above all, his tendency to exploit those around him.”

ONE MORE WORD: The best review I have found so far is Tyler Cowen’s in Foreign Affairs: “Capital punishment.” Also of note is Daniel Shuchman’s Wall Street Journal review “Piketty revives Marx for the 21st century.”

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