Last night, instead of watching an empty debate by the Republican Party’s troubling offering of candidates, I began reading Thomas Piketty’s instant classic, ‘Capital.” The book pretty much changed the daily discourse in the U.S. and the world as far as inequality is concerned last year. The book begins strikingly. Miners in South Africa are on strike in August 2011. The company is a London based mining firm. The South African police confront the miners and there is a clash. Forty four miners are killed.
The miners were seeking higher wages (euros) but they were also protesting huge bonuses given to upper level executives of the firm. Their protest asked: how much of output should go to profits (capital) and how much to wages (labor — the workers)? It is a basic question of fairness.
I do not have to tell you the workers did not get their demands. In fact, they received nothing close to their original demands but the tragedy, as Piketty calls it, suggests that perhaps this kind of clash, something that has happened before, could be returning in the future, but for reform of the world’s economic arrangements (this includes the U.S.)
When ‘Capital’ emerged last year, Piketty, who had researched the book for 15 years, came under fierce attacks. He was not attacked because he was making things up or reciting non-existent facts either; Piketty was attacked for ‘Capital’ precisely because he presented real facts in support of his proposition.
While it shall take me time to digest much of the book and while many have read the book already and debated it, the time for the book to come into consideration in the U.S. and to be used as a hammer, I urge, is now. The nation is choosing a President right now and there are few candidates who have actually discussed the primary issue in ‘Capital.’
Bernie Sanders, the Socialist who is forced to run as a Democrat because of the way political power is brokered in the U.S., is one who speaks to the issues in ‘Capital.’ Donald Trump, a GOP candidate, has mentioned the issues as well, but he is part of the “capital” class and stands to lose much from real reform. His sincerity is instantly suspect. Some other GOP candidates have mentioned “the” issue but offer no real prescription, except more market, more market, more market.
Which candidate(s) would dare hold up Thomas Piketty’s book and demand that the country address the problem of labor and capital he exposes?