Louis Menand at The New Yorker:
In 1980, the philosopher Peter Singer published a short book on Marx in which he listed some of Marx’s predictions: the income gap between workers and owners would increase, independent producers would be forced down into the ranks of the proletariat, wages would remain at subsistence levels, the rate of profit would fall, capitalism would collapse, and there would be revolutions in the advanced countries. Singer thought that most of these predictions were “so plainly mistaken” that it was difficult to understand how anyone sympathetic to Marx could defend them. In 2016, it is harder to be dismissive.
“Economists today would do well to take inspiration from his example,” Thomas Piketty says about Marx, in the best-seller he published in 2013, “Capital in the Twenty-first Century.” The book did for many twenty-first-century readers what Marx hoped “Capital” might do for nineteenth-century ones. It uses data to show us the real nature of social relations and, by doing that, forces us to rethink concepts that have come to seem natural and inevitable. One of these is the concept of the market, which is often imagined as a self-optimizing mechanism it is a mistake to interfere with, but which in fact, left to itself, continually increases inequality. Another concept, closely related, is meritocracy, which is often imagined as a guarantor of social mobility but which, Piketty argues, serves mainly to make economic winners feel virtuous.