Monday, April 28, 2014

How the right (mis)reads Piketty

In my latest piece for The Baffler, I look at conservative responses to Thomas Piketty. There are two major categories of right-wing Piketty reviews. One group of reviewers engages in shameless anti-intellectualism (such as Megan McArdle, who accomplishes the remarkable feat of reviewing the book although she confesses she did not read it) and/or old-school red-baiting (such as Wall Street Journal reviewer Daniel Shuchman, who concludes his review by admonishing Piketty to read Animal Farm and Darkness at Noon).

A second group of conservative reviewers make more serious-sounding criticisms. But if you read them carefully, you'll find that they misread Piketty on certain key points, that they misrepresent some of the evidence (contrary to what they say, consumption inequality is on the rise) and/or are impervious to the implications of there own arguments (if living standards are what matter most, shouldn't we be worried that wages are stagnating for the bottom 90 percent?).

You can read my review of the conservative reviewers clicking here.


  1. 1) Cowan is a smart guy and his blog post goes into specific reasons why he thinks Piketty's predictions (no one knows the future with certainty) might be wrong -- in your piece you say: "Piketty’s analysis makes it clear that that even if growth slows and the return on capital is reduced, the gap between the two will merely narrow; it won’t reverse itself." Well, Cowan argues that it is not clear -- Piketty's so-called analysis is shot-through with all sorts of assumptions about the future that might or might-not be true.

    For more on this, here is Arnold Kling:

    and another good Kling post:

    (note in particular what he says about risk and what that means for "r")

    2) On the subject of consumption inequality, here is a conservative citing a couple of economists at Brookings who have worked with consumption data and find consumption inequality declining:

    3) A couple of good Austrian critics:


    (I think Murphy in particular makes some smart points)

    4) I don't know if this guy is conservative or not, but he sure does know how to point out the flaws in Piketty's work:

    I'm going to do my own post on Piketty and if you peek at my blog you'll obviously see that we have exactly zero political ideas in common, so we are approaching this subject from a completely different political position; but since you seem to be interesting in conservative responses to this guy I figured I'd pass on a few more for your reading pleasure.

  2. Thanks for the links -- I will check them out.

  3. Glad to see this blog up and going! And thanks for the survey of Piketty reviews; the McM is a big fish in a tiny barrel, of course, but responses such as the one above seem worth engaging. At a minimum, Piketty has affected the course of the dialog in a healthy way.

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