Jeff Faux in The Nation:
Thomas Piketty just tossed an intellectual hand grenade into the debate over the world’s struggling economy. Before the English translation of the French economist’s new book,Capital in the Twenty-first Century, hit bookstores, it was applauded, attacked and declared a must-read by pundits, left, right and center. For good reason: it challenges the fundamental assumption of American and European politics that economic growth will continue to deflect popular anger over the unequal distribution of income and wealth.
“Abundance”, observed the late sociologist Daniel Bell was “the American surrogate for socialism.” As the economic pie expands, everyone’s slice grew bigger.
The three-decade long boom that followed World War II seemed to prove Bell’s point, tossing Karl Marx’s forecast of capitalism’s collapse into the dustbin of history.
Marx predicted that as markets expand, profits from technological innovation would gradually dry up, depressions would get more severe and capitalists would drive labor’s share of income in the advanced industrial economies so low that revolution was inevitable.
But twentieth-century capitalism proved more resilient than Marx thought. New technologies continued to generate more profits and jobs. Keynesian fiscal and monetary policies prevented cyclical business downturns from triggering depressions. And the investor class, threatened by the specter of communism, agreed, grudgingly, to the New Deal model of strong unions, social insurance and other policies that forced them to share the profits from rising productivity with their workers.