Paul Krugman writes in today’s New York Times on the buzz around Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Believe the hype, he advises, but the French economist is certainly no Marxist. The celebrated columnist documents some of the more extreme reactions the book has elicited from Republicans and right-wingers, which he calls “the Piketty panic”:
[C]onservatives are terrified…James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute warns in National Review that Mr. Piketty’s work must be refuted, because otherwise it “will spread among the clerisy and reshape the political economic landscape on which all future policy battles will be waged”…it has been amazing to watch conservatives, one after another, denounce Mr. Piketty as a Marxist. Even Mr. Pethokoukis, who is more sophisticated than the rest, calls Capital a work of “soft Marxism,” which only makes sense if the mere mention of unequal wealth makes you a Marxist.
It is to Krugman’s credit that he can see through the hysterical right-wing denunciations of Piketty as a “Marxist” or “collectivist,” however. That’s something that can’t really be said for the book’s various “Marxian” admirers. Many on the Left tend to believe the Right’s paranoid rhetoric about fairly anodyne liberalism: if conservatives decry Keynesianism or political correctness as “Marxist” (i.e., economic or cultural), then it must be!
Yeah, not really.
Of course, Krugman’s endorsement of Capital in the Twenty-First Century should come as no surprise, as here it’s one celebrity neo-Keynesian singing the praises of another. Apparently Piketty has amassed an impressive amount of data in arguing his case; most seem to agree on this point, whatever else they might think of him.
Doug Henwood, one of the more openly Marxist business analysts in the United States, gave the book a quite favorable review in Book Forum for this very reason. Henwood only took issue with Piketty’s “distressingly moderate [stance] as he sounds out some of the political implications of his analysis.” Personally I think they’re not so far removed from one another, as Henwood hails from the democratic socialist tradition (which pursues electoral strategies that I doubt Piketty would object to).
As for myself, I certainly plan on reading the book in full as soon as I get the chance. So far I’ve just perused it.