A Pirate reads Piketty, part 4: Transparency

George Walkden's picture

Transparency and its sister, the flip side of the coin, privacy, are at the heart of Pirate politics. The first of the seven principles on which the PPUK constitution is founded states that society is built on the sharing of knowledge (and we've already seen how important that is in reducing inequality, according to Piketty). The third principle makes this more explicit with respect to the role of government: "Everyone should have a say in the structure and processes of governance and the right to know what is done on their behalf".

A Pirate reads Piketty, part 3: The Rich Shall Inherit The Earth

George Walkden's picture

One of the refreshing things about Piketty’s book - at least for a humanities academic like me - is that he uses literary sources, particularly the novels of Austen and Balzac, as evidence of attitudes to wealth in the nineteenth century. His favourite episode is from Balzac’s Père Goriot, in which the young protagonist Rastignac is faced with a dilemma: marry Victorine and inherit a vast fortune, or work his way to the top? The cynical Vautrin comes to the rescue with a timely lesson, explaining to young Rastignac that even at the height of a career in law - for which he would have to fight hard and sacrifice much - he would still earn far less than he could simply by marrying into a wealthy family.

A depressing thought for anyone with the slightest attachment to meritocracy. But that sort of society is dead and gone. Isn’t it?

A Pirate reads Piketty, part 2: The Caprices of Technology

George Walkden's picture

Part 2 of Piketty's book deals with the relationship between capital and income over time. There are fluctuations, there are differences between countries, and some forms of capital have changed in importance: agricultural land, for instance, has shrunk to a tiny proportion of the overall capital of the countries investigated. Still, the overall trajectory is pretty clear: capital is on the rise. Piketty cautions that "there is no natural force that inevitably reduces the importance of capital ... over the course of history" (p234).

One contention that should resonate with Pirates is that "technology, like the market, has neither limits nor morality". Piketty clarifies this by arguing that "Progress toward economic and technological rationality need not imply progress toward democratic and meritocratic rationality", and hence that "If one truly wishes to found a more just and rational social order based on common utility, it is not enough to count on the caprices of technology".

A Pirate reads Piketty, part 1: Knowledge and Equality

George Walkden's picture

Back in 2014, Thomas Piketty's book Capital in the Twenty-First Century came as close to being a popular sensation as a 700-page economic tome can get, winning acclaim from a variety of sectors and propelling Piketty into the company of well-known "public economists" such as Joseph Stiglitz and Paul Krugman. A little late to the game, I decided to take a look for myself. I felt motivated to write this series of posts because it turns out that core Pirate principles and Piketty's main messages are more closely entwined than one might imagine.

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