Most mornings, first thing, I sit down with a cup of coffee and cruise the Web to see what’s going on. And sometimes I see links to things you couldn’t pay me to read. Recent examples are Megan McCardle on why tax hikes on the wealthy won’t help the middle class and George Will on why President Obama is “adolescent.” I’m sure most of you know as well as I what McCardle and Will are likely to say and also know that whatever it is will make as much sense as chocolate on tuna.
Some might say I’m too partisan. I’d say that I’ve already wasted too many hours of my life that I’ll never get back giving Will and McCardle a fair hearing in my head. They had their chance to impress me. They blew it.
â€œCapital in the Twenty-First Century,â€ the new book by the French economist Thomas Piketty, is a bona fide phenomenon. Other books on economics have been best sellers, but Mr. Pikettyâ€™s contribution is serious, discourse-changing scholarship in a way most best sellers arenâ€™t. And conservatives are terrified. Thus James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute warns in National Review that Mr. Pikettyâ€™s work must be refuted, because otherwise it â€œwill spread among the clerisy and reshape the political economic landscape on which all future policy battles will be waged.â€
Well, good luck with that. The really striking thing about the debate so far is that the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack to Mr. Pikettyâ€™s thesis. Instead, the response has been all about name-calling â€” in particular, claims that Mr. Piketty is a Marxist, and so is anyone who considers inequality of income and wealth an important issue.
More than anything else, Krugman writes, Piketty destroys the right-wing myth that the wealth of the wealthy was earned. In fact, the 1 percent is mostly an oligarchy of inherited wealth. Obviously, noticing this is unacceptable to the oligarchy.
So what am I not reading? David Brooks. David Brooks’s column is about Piketty. Brooks essentially functions as an envoy from the oligarchy to the upper middle class. He exists to reassure college-educated professionals who read the New York Times or watch the PBS News Hour that the oligarchy is on their side, or at least they should be on the oligarchy’s side. And he’s actually really good at that role; I have met otherwise intelligent people who admire Brooks’s columns and can’t see they are being played.
Ross Douthat has a blog post up about Piketty, and I’m not reading it, either, unless someone else reads it first and tells me it’s not utterly stupid. Economics isn’t really Douthat’s issue, though. He mostly exists to complain about people having unauthorized sex. Is he writing that poor people wouldn’t be so poor if they stopped having unauthorized sex? If someone else wants to read it, here’s a link. Let me know.