Jonah Goldberg writes Mr. Piketty’s Big Book of Marxiness in the July issue of Commentary.


Of course, America has poor people, though it has relatively few who go hungry because capitalism has failed them. The average poor person in America, in material terms, lives quite well in comparison with a poor person elsewhere in the world or the average American else-when in time. The “actual living conditions of people counted as living ‘in poverty’ in America today,” Nicholas Eberstadt recently explained in the Weekly Standard, “bear very little resemblance to those of Americans enumerated as poor in the first official government count attempted in 1965.” He continued:

By 2011, for example, average per capita housing space for people in poverty was higher than the U.S. average for 1980, and crowding (more than one person per room) was less common for the 2011 poor than for the nonpoor in 1970. More than three-quarters of the 2011 poor had access to one or more motor vehicles, whereas nearly three-fifths were without an auto in 1972–73. Refrigerators, dishwashers, washers and dryers, and many other appliances were more common in officially impoverished homes in 2011 than in the typical American home of 1980 or earlier. Microwaves were virtually universal in poor homes in 2011, and DVD players, personal computers, and home Internet access are now typical in them—amenities not even the richest U.S. households could avail themselves of at the start of the War on Poverty.  Further, Americans counted as poor today are manifestly healthier, better nourished (or overnourished), and more schooled than their predecessors half a century ago.

That is the sort of historical context one would expect from an economist who claims to be interested in historical context. There’s nothing like that here. Instead, Piketty glibly segues from the South African strikers to the 1886 Haymarket Square riots in Chicago, asking: “Does this kind of violent clash between capital and labor belong to the past, or will it be an integral part of twenty-first century history?”