Review of “Capital and Ideology” by Thomas Piketty.
I am not qualified to review this book but that has never stopped me before. I am not summarizing what the author and dozens, if not hundreds, of historical economists and historians have spent decades studying. This book is more than a thousand pages, which says a lot about the research and intellectual investment of the author and god-knows how many others in their endeavor. I don’t even feel competent to summarize this tome, so I’m going to focus on how the author communicated his message to me personally, just as if this were a piece of fiction, which it is to some extent.
This book was translated from French to English by a professional, even though the author is fluent in both languages. A wise choice because the English translation is very readable. Even the most pedantic segments (there were a lot) were comprehensible, and the figure captions recapitulated the text. This was a professionally written (in the old-school meaning) summary of mind-numbing bureaucratic and polling data being turned into actionable statistical data.
The message interpreted from these data wasn’t as convincing as the author wanted me to believe.
Piketty admits the uncertainty of his data constantly, so I’m not saying that there was any misrepresentation, only what he says himself many times in this iconic book: there are insufficient data to make any definitive recommendations, but we should nevertheless start a serious, multinational dialogue if we are to avoid the fate of…
This is where Piketty’s argument hits a snag. He doesn’t give any examples, not even from antiquity (like complex socioeconomic analyses of ancient societies from about 1100 BCE, a time not unlike our own), to support his conjecture, a term he doesn’t deny outright. He has no evidence of what anyone with the common sense of…
No one has any common sense about these issues, a point admitted by Piketty. He advises economic historians and political scientists to work together to address the issues alluded to above, but fails to demonstrate any understanding of the impact of his claim. Perhaps the author should have spent more time talking to political scientists and economists before unilaterally sharing his historical viewpoint, weighted heavily in favor of his agenda.
To be clear, I agree with the conclusions presented in this book. It’s worth the risk of the incremental changes he proposes to shift the trajectory of global civilization.
I’ve become pretty good at finding punctuation and grammatical errors, despite my lack of formal education, but I was impressed by the translator’s work. I didn’t keep count, but the error rate was a lot better than mine. I read the footnotes, where the error rate went up, but not to the point of even being annoying. This was a very well written and translated book.
I’m sorry to disappoint anyone who thought I was going to summarize the author’s work. However, I do recommend this book based on Piketty’s own suggestion: skip the evidentiary chapters and read his summary if you aren’t willing to read a lot of pedantic European economic history.
The conclusion of the book is made clear throughout: The global socioeconomic system needs a better model than capitalism.
I recommend this book for serious readers. For the rest of you, pick up whatever you can from the internet because Thomas Piketty is not a recluse.
Meanwhile, if a cliff-notes version appears…