Saturday, 23 August 2014

Three reviews of Thomas Picketty's book

There's been a lot of discussion in the media about Thomas Picketty's book Capital in the 21st Century. What I found interesting about this attention is how it provoked comparisons to Marx - the title itself suggests Picketty is trying to provide us with a "modern" updated theory of how capitalism works. 

Picketty himself is actually very dismissive of both Marx and Marxism. His approach is also completely different - he focuses on mountains and mountains of empirical data, rather than developing a theoretical or conceptual analysis. 

I have read a fair number of reviews of Picketty's book, and these three reviews I have found to be the most enlightening:

John Kenneth Galbraith's review 

David Harvey's review 

 Christian Fuch's review

Galbraith is a Keynesian, whereas both Harvey and Fuchs are Marxists. All three of them take apart Picketty's 'physicalist' notion of capital, read together I think they give a quite good account of what the term "capital" actually means for Marx. 

Fuchs does a good job of outlining a Marxist critique of Picketty's theories, and corrects some quite major misinterpretations of Marx's views. But he also argues that Marxists should not simply dismiss or deny Picketty's contribution. Rather, they should engage with the discussion and the various issues it raises around wealth concentration and inequality. 

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