As I write this, Thomas Piketty's book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" is No. 1 on Amazon.com. It's been deemed an "important book" by a bunch of smart people. Why not? It validates many of the preconceived notions progressives have about capitalism: Inequality is growing. Mobility is shrinking. Meritocracy is dead. We all live in a sprawling zero-sum fallacy.
The book has also sparked nonstop conversation in political and media circles. Though it's best to let economists debunk Piketty's methodology and data, it is worth pointing out that liberal pundits and writers have enthusiastically and unconditionally embraced not only a book on economics but a hard-left manifesto.
Now, I realize we're all supposed to accept the fact that conservatives are alone in embracing fringe economic ideas. But how does a book that evokes Karl Marx and talks about tweaking the Soviet experiment find so much love from people who consider themselves rational, evidence-driven moderates?
Put it this way: It's unlikely that Democrats would have praised a book like this 20 years ago -- or even 10. Nowadays, Jack Lew -- better known as the treasury secretary of the United States of America -- takes time to chitchat with the author.
Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, argues that capitalism allocates resources efficiently but unfairly apportions income. And the excessive accumulation of wealth by the 1 percent -- nay, the 0.01 percent -- is not only corrupt but an inequality that makes democracy unsustainable. And it's going to get worse. So only a massive transfer of wealth could make our nation whole again.
I'd ask whether there are any historical examples that prove that skewed wealth in a generally prosperous nation is more damaging to its democratic institutions than the reallocation of wealth by a coercive state. But then I realize that as with any Marxist revival, the answer is: This time, we're gonna do it right!
Judging from the political rhetoric of the day, liberals already believe that higher taxes on the wealthy can create more opportunity for the poor and middle class. Though some of us would argue that the nexus between high taxes and economic growth is tenuous, debating whether the top marginal tax rate should be 25 or 33 or 35 percent is well within the boundaries of a centrist debate. But that's not Piketty's position.
Here's how Daniel Shuchman put it in a recent Wall Street Journal review: