Thomas Piketty: Three Years On

Thomas Piketty: Three Years On

By David Runciman and Catherine Carr

We revisit our interview with the economist Thomas Piketty recorded the week Emmanuel Macron won the French presidency and David and Helen ask what we have learned since. Where does Macron fit on the left/right political spectrum? What has his cult of personality done to French politics? And are we anywhere nearer knowing how to tackle the problem of inequality? The last in our series of updates from the Talking Politics archive.

Show Notes:

Why isn’t inequality having a more primary effect on our politics? 

Are ethnic and nationalist divisions trumping class divisions?

Piketty’s research shows that nothing is pre-ordained, but it often takes a crisis to reorient politics.

In the 20th century, war plays this role. If you take war out of it, what happens?Can democracies deal with inequality without a crisis? Is there a democratic path to redress inequality? 

Macron relatively quickly became a politician of the centre-right.

This shouldn’t have been a surprise. What was harder to anticipate was the nature of the opposition, in particular, the Gilets Jaunes.Macron has become more preoccupied with the geopolitical than reforming the Eurozone.It’s easy to forget how contingent Macron’s rise was.

Macron’s rise blew apart the French party system. 

The failings predated Macron, but he did inject something much more personalized into French politics.Macron created a movement that could win a majority in the French legislature. During lockdown, however, he lost his absolute majority in the lower house because various people on the left defected.

The larger story about economic choices, especially macroeconomic choices, being taken out of the hands of democratic politics took a particular shape in France.

Can we see Macron’s rise as an answer to France’s problems in the euro?

Has COVID moved Europe any closer to answering questions about what engenders solidarity?

Piketty has been an advocate of quite radical institutional reforms towards a more centralised European project.Clearly the crisis has changed notions about common European borrowing. If you have debt, what kind of political solidarity sustains that debt? For there to be meaningful solidarity where debt is concerned, you need to see meaningful taxes. So far, this has not happened.Nor has there been any institutional reform in the last few months. That part of the Piketty project seems as far off as ever.

Mentioned in this Episode: 

Capital in the Twenty-First Century Last week’s episode with Lucia and Hans

Further Learning: 

Piketty’s most recent book, Capital and IdeologyWill coronavirus lead to fairer societies? Thomas Piketty explores the prospect for The GuardianAn interview with Piketty in The Nation about the virus and his...
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