Review Article of 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century', Thomas Piketty
12 Pages Posted: 1 Jun 2015 Last revised: 3 Jun 2015
Date Written: May 19, 2015
Placed at each end of the long spectrum of responses to Thomas Piketty’s best seller (in its admirable 2014 English translation by Arthur Goldhammer) are those of Paul Krugman and Deirdre McCloskey. (I omit the responses of Tea Party right-wing nutters. The book was published in French in 2013 and evidently did not make much of an impact; it is the English translation that has caused the sensation.)
In the New York Times, Krugman pronounced it to be ‘the most important book of the year — and maybe of the decade’. In a review article in the Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, McCloskey graded it as mistaken on most fronts. She concludes her amusing diatribe: ‘On the next to last page … Piketty writes: “It is possible … to have an approach that is at once economic and political, social and cultural, and concerned with wages and wealth”… he has not achieved it. His gestures to cultural matters consist chiefly of a few naïvely used references to novels he has read superficially, for which on the left he has been embarrassingly praised … His social theme is a narrow ethic of envy. His politics assumes that governments can do anything they propose to do … his economics is flawed from start to finish … a brave book [that] is mistaken’ (112). McCloskey herself gives ‘Two-and-half cheers for the new dominance since 1800 of a bourgeois ideology and the spreading acceptance of the Bourgeois Deal’ (112). As would be expected, Bob Solow in his review article in The New Republic (2014), both supports Piketty — ‘Thomas Piketty is right’ — and provides the clearest account and analysis of the issues and Piketty’s theoretical approach without ever leaving the realm of simple arithmetic.
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