Where are the power relations in Piketty’s Capital?

by Miriam Ronzoni on December 11, 2015

I would like to raise two related questions to Thomas Piketty. The first
concerns his repeatedly declared conviction that economic theory cannot
explain trends in inequality by itself, that policies and institutions
are equally important, and that economists must therefore put forward
their hypotheses and explanations with this interdependence in mind.
Given what I have understood Piketty’s main thesis to be, I wonder up to
which point he is actually committed to that claim. The second concerns
Part Four of _Capital_, where Piketty sketches a proposal for how to
regulate capital in the 21st century. In a nutshell, my concern about
Piketty’s proposal is that there seems to be a friction between the
diagnosis offered in the rest of the book (which seems to draw a rather
bleak picture of the power of capital in the early 21st century) and the
suggested cure (which seems to rely on the optimistic hope that, once
well-minded citizens will have recognized the problem, the only hurdle
will be to find the right policy to fix it). To put it provocatively,
both my questions are inspired by the suspicion that Piketty seems to
hold on to a social-democratic optimism of sorts at all costs, whereas
his findings seem to push him in a different direction. With the label
‘social-democratic optimism’ I mean two things: on the one hand,
optimism about the role of policies and institutions in taming capital
on the one hand; on the other, the persuasion that what politics is
fundamentally about is making citizens understand what the problems are
in a well-minded, reasoned dialogue, and then they will be persuaded to
do the right thing. [click to continue…]