kunkel on piketty

Capital--621x414Benjamin Kunkel at the London Review of Books:

In the background to Piketty’s wide and admiring reception lie two crises. One is disciplinary. Economists, endowed until a few years ago with more authority than other scholars, now appear in the eyes of many to have produced models of efficiency and harmony whose perfection was won at the cost of reality. The mathematised dream of some future catallaxy – Hayek’s lovely word for the spontaneous peaceful order that would result from maximum liberation of the market – bore little resemblance to actually existing capitalism. Since the crash, behavioural economics has generated much of the excitement in the field, but it too is better equipped to make sense of individual economic actors than of the mutually determining trajectories of social classes and national economies. The second crisis is not of economics but the economy: the maldistribution of wealth and incomes visible in every facet of societies today. Piketty’s searching investigation of this phenomenon has been met with understandable gratitude. Branko Milanovic, in a symposium titled ‘Piketty’s Triumph’ in the American Prospect, hailed ‘a monumental book that will influence economic analysis (and perhaps policymaking) in the years to come’, and restores economics to its ‘roots where it seeks to understand’ – in Marx’s phrase – ‘the “laws of motion” of capitalism’. Martin Wolf in the Financial Times wrote that ‘in its scale and sweep’ Capital in the 21st Century‘brings us back to the founders of political economy’. The inadequacy of mainstream economics in the face of the capitalist economy today has clearly produced a hunger for such a book. But the hungry are apt to praise any substantial meal as a feast.

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