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Branko Milanovic - globalinequality: Where I disagree and agree with Debraj Ray’s critique of Piketty’s Capital in the 21s Century - June 2014
Debraj’s error consists...in not realizing that normal capitalist relations of production (where capitalists tend to be rich) are forgotten when we look at economic laws in an abstract manner. Not doing that is precisely a great virtue of Piketty’s book. Surely, (a) if capital/labor proportions were the same across income distribution; (b) if, more extremely, capitalists were poor and workers rich; (c) if capital were state-owned, all of these contradictions would disappear. But none of (a)-(c) conditions holds in contemporary capitalism. So Piketty’s economic laws and contradictions of capitalism do exist. Where do I agree wit Debraj? That Kuznets curve cannot be easily dismissed. I am currently working on the idea that we are now witnessing the upswing of the 2nd Kuznets curve since the Industrial revolution. Moreover I believe this is not only the 2nd but perhaps 5th, 6th or 10th curve over the past 1000 years in the West. Does this agreement on Kuznets then, by itself, imply that my defense of Piketty’s mechanism cannot be right or consistent? Not at all. Piketty isolated the key features of capitalist inequality trends when they are left to themselves: the forces of divergence (inequality) will win. But there are also other forces: capital destruction, wars, confiscatory taxation, hyperinflation, pressure of trade unions, high taxation of capital, rising importance of labor and higher wages, that at different times go the other way, and, in a Kuznets-like fashion, drive inequality down. So, I believe, Piketty has beautifully uncovered the forces of divergence, mentioned some of the forces of convergence, but did not lay to rest the ghost of Kuznets inverted U shaped curve
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june 2014 by dunnettreader

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