This introduction to Historical Materialism’s mini-symposium on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century places the three contributions by Husson, Mann and Roberts in the context of an exploration of the link between methodology and politics in Piketty’s economic history of inequality. Touching on the role of time and literature in Piketty’s argument, as well as on his difficulty in accounting for the relations of capital – especially ones originating in colonialism and empire – it approaches Piketty’s book, and its success, in terms of its concerted effort to produce a cognitive mapping of contemporary capitalism that can serve as a prelude to its democratic reform.
BurgenStephen‘Thomas Piketty: Rise of Anti-austerity Parties Good News for Europe’The Guardian2015January12available at: <http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/jan/12/thomas-piketty-austerity-europe-greece-spain>.
GalbraithJames K.VaroufakisYanis‘Whither Europe? The Modest Camp vs The Federalist Austerians’Open Democracy2014June11available at: <https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/james-galbraith-yanis-varoufakis/whither-europe-modest-camp-vs-federalist-austeri>.
RichéPascal‘Taxe de 75%: “Le gouvernement a tout faux”, selon Piketty’Rue 892012September6available at: <http://rue89.nouvelobs.com/rue89-eco/2012/09/06/piketty-et-la-taxe-limee-des-75-le-gouvernement-tout-faux-235152>.
Wade2014, p. 15. Thanks to Brenna Bhandar, Sebastian Budgen, Geoff Mann and Peter Thomas for their comments and suggestions.
Peden2014. Peden’s comparison to the fortunes of Graeber’s Debt, an even more sanguine assertion of the longue durée, is illuminating.
Piketty2014a, p. 213.
See also Mattick 2014 and Smith2014, as well as the several responses mentioned in Mann’s article below.
Piketty2014a, p. 274.
Piketty2014a, p. 39. The conflict is emblematic enough for Piketty that he returns to it on the very last page of the last chapter, p. 570, where, referring to the opacity of the mining company Lomnin Inc.’s accounts, he stresses the urgency of ‘real accounting and financial transparency and sharing of information’ as preconditions for ‘economic democracy’, so that the latter may ‘someday regain control of capitalism’.
Piketty2014a, p. 250.
Piketty2014a, p. 255.
Piketty2014a, p. 567.
Varoufakis2014, p. 21. For Varoufakis, Piketty’s capital is a ‘metric of wealth’. Varoufakis has also taken Piketty to task for his proposals for reforming the Eurozone (see Galbraith and Varoufakis 2014).
See also the technical appendix: Piketty2014b, p. 21, n. 10a.
Piketty2014a, p. 121.
Piketty2014a, pp. 378 and 571.
Piketty2014a, p. 514.
Piketty2014a, p. 572. The French original is somewhat more lyrical: ‘Il est ainsi possible d’éviter la spirale inégalitaire sans fin, tout en préservant les forces de la concurrence et les incitations à ce que de nouvelles accumulations primitives se produisent sans cesse’ (Piketty 2013, p. 943).
Piketty2014a, pp. 667ff. Though the use of literature in Piketty has been noted by many reviewers, there has been little reflection on its role. An exception is Pedullà 2015, which nicely problematises Piketty’s claims about the difficulties for novelists in representing the contemporary structures of inequality.
Quoted in Piketty2014a, p. 239.
Piketty2014a, p. 120.
Piketty2014a, p. 446.
Piketty2014a, p. 287.
For an important instance, see Jameson1984.
See Bensaïd2010, Tomba 2014, Tombazos 2015 and Morfino 2014 (Chapter 6).
Piketty2014a, p. 35.
Landais, Piketty and Saez2011. Both this book and Capital in the Twenty-First Century are published in French in a series edited by Pierre Rosanvallon, a powerful intellectual figure of the French moderate centre-left who has castigated the ‘radical-nostalgic ideology’ of an antagonistic left. Piketty’s sympathy for Syriza and Podemos is thus testament to a shift, perhaps not so much in his convictions, as in the discursive field of mainstream European politics. One now has to travel far to the left of the spectrum even to find mild Keynesian proposals.
Piketty2014a, p. 507.
See for instance Kunkel2014, overall one of the finest presentations from a Marxist angle of Piketty’s work.
Piketty2014a, p. 539. Also p. 497.
Piketty2014a, p. 267.
Piketty2014a, p. 483. This is a particularly evasive allusion, as the forms of property of capital have not featured prominently in his own account.