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Noticeable and Unnoticeable Inequality

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in The Twenty First Century, has spawned a cottage industry of dissent.  Piketty uses masses of data to illuminate a growth in inequality, that he surmises is an inevitable result of capitalism and can only be resolved by painfully high taxes on the rich. For the left it is a pivotal work that brings data and credentialism to their ideology that capitalism is so flawed that it requires constant and strong control from the state.

Anti-Piketty is a collection of noted economists and political thinkers that find significant flaws with Piketty’s work.  These critiques include serious flaws with the data itself and how it is used, the difficulty of measuring the forms of income and inequality itself, conclusions that are not supported by the data, and a philosophically flawed concept of wealth, growth and capitalism.

From Anti- Piketty Chapter    17. Get Real: A Review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century by Donald Boudreaux

The shrinking gap between the real economic fortunes of the rich and the rest of us should calm concerns about the political dangers of the expanding inequality of monetary fortunes. If economic inequality is destined to dangerously destabilize our political institutions, it would have to be inequality that is readily noticeable. But the 1 percent’s private art collections, solid gold Jacuzzis, and (least of all) bank accounts are not on display for the 99 percent to gaze upon enviously. Those things are invisible to the public. Unlike a hundred years ago when upper-income people (and only upper-income people) were regularly seen motoring in automobiles or strolling in their clean, pressed, and patch-free clothing into restaurants, even the super rich today are largely indistinguishable in public from middle-class Americans. If you happened past Jeff Bezos strolling down Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, you’d have no clue that he’s a billionaire. His dress, grooming, and physical health would look to the naked eye no different from that of countless middle-class Americans.

Piketty’s book itself ironically supports this point: progressives hail Capital in the 21st Century as supplying the best evidence yet that the trend of economic inequality has become, as Piketty describes it, “potentially terrifying” (2014, 571). But if people have to read a book to learn just how great is economic inequality, then that inequality is not salient to their daily lives.

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