Picking on Piketty: Why He Won’t Fade Away, and Why His Message Won’t Work

Piketty: "I'll lift your wallet this way. . ."

Piketty: “I’ll lift your wallet this way. . .”

Pretty clearly Thomas Piketty is making a bid to become the most popular French export to America since Bridgett Bardot, but the difference is that Bardot had more substance to her.  There are numerous devastating critiques of his framework for arguing we need a wealth tax, though above all I’ve never once heard someone explain how higher taxes on the rich will benefit the middle and working classes.  (You don’t really think Washington will actually spend the money on the middle class, do you?)  It is revealed at the end of the day to be a purely punitive policy based on pure resentment and envy.

And that’s exactly Piketty’s core appeal to the left.  Piketty is the anti-Laffer.  The left has hated the logic—and even more the results—of tax-cutting supply side economics since it first arrived on the scene in the late 1970s.  (Remember Obama’s answer to ABC’s Charlie Gibson in the 2008 campaign, when he said he favored higher capital gains taxes even if it reduced revenue, because fairness.)  Now the left has a French intellectual economist offering the veneer of an empirical theory to justify their innermost desire of wealth confiscation.  You can almost hear Paul Krugman wetting his pants.  (He probably would wet his pants if he wasn’t worried about Clean Water Act violations.)

I doubt it will work for a simple reason.  The Laffer curve was about growth and hope; Laffer (not to mention his chief champion, Ronald Reagan) is a happy warrior.  I asked Laffer one day not long ago: “How can California get away with such high taxes and regulation?”  He said: “That’s like asking why pretty girls are so mean: Because they can.”  See what I mean?  Piketty and his followers can’t do that.  Piketty and the resentful left are about envy and redistribution, though most Americans these days have some grasp of the fact that any additional confiscated wealth will be redistributed chiefly to the environs of Washington DC, currently the location of eight of the ten wealthiest counties in America.  But he’s going to be around for a while, because he’s all the left has.  And you can expect the Piketty hypothesis to be the centerpiece of the Democratic presidential campaign of 2016.

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