Thomas Piketty speaks in Sydney on inequality

Issue 
Thomas Piketty.

Economist and author of Capital in the 21st Century Thomas Piketty gave a lecture entitled “Is Increasing Inequality Inevitable?” to a full house at the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall on October 23.

Piketty presented detailed research on growing income inequality compiled by a number of scholars and sourced directly from national taxation and income statistics from primarily advanced capitalist countries, as well as some statistics from a number of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa).

Piketty’s data demonstrated that the wealthy are doing it even better today. His data on Australia reaffirmed that of other analysts that wealth concentration among the top 10% is at its highest level since 1951.

Piketty’s data thoroughly busted the myth of the “meritocracy” — the idea that those without access to family wealth can work their way to property ownership and economic fortune. He also debunked the theory that inequality would naturally decline in the advanced stages of capitalism.

Piketty identified those periods in the 20th century where income inequality was at its lowest as following “global shocks”, including war and revolution.

However he believes that Karl Marx is also wrong, and advocates for a more “peaceful evolution” to income equality, stressing the role of “institutions and policy” in closing the gap between rich and poor.

Piketty cited policy initiatives such as Japan’s inheritance tax and talked up British economist Tony Atkinson's proposal for governments to give all citizens a capital endowment (inheritance) when they reach adulthood.

All this raises the obvious question of what political changes would be required to bring about a fundamental and lasting reversal in income inequality?

After all, the capitalist class and the super rich are not going to part with their wealth voluntarily and the governments of the advanced capitalist countries are, at best, tinkering around the edges if not making the situation worse by lowering taxes, giving corporate handouts and attacking the minimum wage.

Economics and politics go hand in hand, and it is going to take a “movement of movements” (in the words of Naomi Klein) to force governments to act in the interests of the majority and against the power of the corporations and super rich.

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