Comments about the book "Capital and Ideology" by Thomas Piketty

This document contains comments about the book: "Capital and Ideology" by Thomas Piketty. De Geus 2020
In the last paragraph I explain my own opinion.




page 11

Every society finds itself compelled to justify the inequality that exists therein: reasons must be found for it, otherwise the political and social edifice threatens to collapse.
When you consider each society, or closed community, you must come to the conclusion that not all people are equal, but that does not mean that these inequalities are a thread for its existence. One reason is that not all people have the same capabilities. The question is to what extend people accept these differences, specific in the way they reflect their every day of life. In general, in most societies these differences are 'silently' accepted or the inhabitants don't have the will or combined reason to change it.
Thus, each era produces a number of conflicting discourses and ideologies with the aim of legitimizing existing or desired inequalities, and describing the economic, political and social rules necessary to structure the whole.
I doubt this. Most societies are happy the way they are operating, but that does not mean that they accept the situation if the inequalities increase.

page 12

The increase in socio-economic inequality has occurred almost everywhere in the world since the 1980s-1990s. In certain cases, the increase is so great that it becomes increasingly difficult to justify it on the basis of the public interest.
It is true that the social economic differences increase in the world at large. The question is how do these changes influence the overall public behaviour.
The problem is that in every society you can consider two groups: People that work and people that don't work. The working class as such are the people in the age group between 20 and 50. These are the people that in general are not interested in any change.
If we do not radically change the current economic system, both between countries and within countries, so that it offers more equal opportunities and becomes more just and future-proof, it is certainly not inconceivable that xenophobic 'populism' will start very shortly thanks to future electoral successes. breaking down the hyper-capitalist, digital globalization of the 1990s-2020s.
That is the question. Many people in the age group between 20 and 50 have a good life and don't want to implement any change, specific not any economic change. They think that all what we currently can do is normal.
The problem is that this not true for all people in the world enlarge.

page 13

The new extraordinarily inegalitarian narrative that has dominated since the 1980s-1990s is partly a product of history and the fiasco of communism.
To blame everything on communism, or one specific country, is wrong.
From an historical perspective communism is very important for the evolution of Russia and rightly or wrongly has to be studied in detail.

page 14

What is an ideology

Within the scope of this book, I try to use the term 'ideology' in a positive and constructive way, that is, as a coherent set of ideas and reasoning that is a priori plausible and serves to describe how society should be structured.
* What Is an Egalitarian Society? In an egalitarian society, all are considered equal, regardless of gender, race, religion, or age. There is not * a class system in an egalitarian society but relatively equal access to income and wealth.
Given the complexity of these issues, it goes without saying that no single ideology will receive the full approval of everyone: conflicts and ideological differences are inherent in ideologies.
That there are ideological differences between ideologies is 100% true.
The important issue is that there are different ideologies which discuss the same subject. For example, about economics. That the solutions can be different is more than logical.
To have a discussion about these different solutions is normal. To start a conflict is rare.

page 15

Every society, and therefore every inegalitarian state system, is characterized by a set of more or less coherent and future-proof solutions to the issues surrounding the political system and the property system.
Each society can discuss political and property issues. At the same time within a society there should be different parties which more or less have the same opinions or solutions. Only when different parties are involved, which express clearly what they want, you have a chance to change something. The fact if these parties are inegalitarian if of less importance.
For example, one can agree on the political system, but not on the property system, or on some aspect of taxation or education, but not on other parts.
The individual parties involved, can agree or disagree, between each other, on everything. The important issue is, how to implement certain changes.

The border and the property

Simply put, it can be said that every inegalitarian system, every inegalitarian ideology, rests on a theory of boundary and a theory of property.
Why mention specific the concept: inegalitarian ideology?
Each society can be based around certain ideologies. If those ideologies are ethnical, racial, cultural or religious based, then they immediate can divide such a society in different groups, as a root for inequalities.
On the one hand there is the issue of the border
On the other hand there is the question of property: can or may one possess other people?
It does not make sense to discuss individual questions or issues. The important part is to agree that within each society there are different parties which each have different opinions and questions.

page 16

For this reason, in analysing these historical developments, I would like to use the notion of 'inegalitarian society', which encompasses both the political system and the property system (as well as the education system and the teaching system), which helps to better understand the coherence between those developments.
The term 'inegalitarian society' is confusing. It is more important to identify different parties which each have their own opinions. As such you can have parties for the 'rich' the 'in between' and the 'poor' or any other strategy.

page 17

More generally, today's inequality is largely determined by the system of borders, nationalities, and social and political rights.
The use of the word inequality is wrong.

Taking the ideology seriously

Inequality is not economic or technological: it is ideological and political. This is undoubtedly the clearest conclusion that can be drawn from the historical research presented in this book.
The inequalities in any society are the results of a slow process. Specific certain groups will benefit from these inequalities, rightly or wrongly, and other groups don't have the will, or energy to oppose them.
When you consider the world enlarge there are inequalities everywhere. In most cases starting point are economic advantages, supported by other societies and it is very difficult to change that.

page 18

In other words, ideas and ideologies matter in history. They offer the opportunity to imagine and shape better worlds and different societies.
Of course, ideas and ideologies are important.
Often they are a reaction on the current state of a society.
In any society certain elements are right and wrong. Specific people will highlight what they think is wrong. The issue is how large and or how (economical) important is such a group.
See also

page 20

As far as I can, I will try in this book to take the ideologies seriously.
I would like to give a chance to all the ideologies of the past, especially the proprietarist, social-democratic and communist ideologies, but also the ideologies behind the class society, the slaves and colonial societies, by reconstructing them according to their own logic and in their own context.
I am aware that the concept of ideology can also be used in an unfavourable sense and that this sometimes is justified.
To make such a claim you need at least one example. A dictator, the 'absolute' power in the hands of one person, is not by definition bad. A good example 'may be not in all its details' is Tito the leader of the former state Yugoslavia. In his case he was the leader of a country which consisted of different ethnic groups, which he tried to connect. After his dead the hell broke loose.

page 24

The sources used for this book: inequality and ideology

page 28

The progress of humanity, the return of inequality, the diversity in the world.

page 29

Humanity today is in better health than ever before; she also has greater access to education and culture.
That is true. The problem is that it is not everywhere the same.

page 57

The complementarity of natural language and mathematical language.

page 58

Nothing will ever replace natural language, neither to express social identity or political ideology, nor to structure social science research or to reflect on what constitutes a just society.
Natural language is the only tool to express the meaning of people. At the same all words and concepts used should be clearly defined.
Who expects that one day one can leave a mathematical formula, an algorithm or an econometric model to determine what the social optimum level of inequality is and with which institutions this can be reached, will be disappointed.
The main problem of such an exercise is human behaviour. Human behaviour cannot be described in a mathematical formula.
Only open, democratic consultation, in natural language (or rather, in natural languages) can provide the nuances and finer points needed to make such choices.
This sentence requires the definition of the word democratic.
When you want to have an open society, all inputs should become from as many sources as possible and what is important all these sources should be open to each other opinions.
The problem is that in many economical situations the interests of the different parties involved can be detrimental.

page 60

The structure of this book

page 61

Chapter 13 presents the current hyper-capitalist, inegalitarian and global system in a different perspective placed between modernity and archaism, emphasizing its apparent inability to recognize how much it is being undermined by inequality and environmental issues.
Also here: all terminology used should be clearly defined.

The problem with all environmental issues is, that it should be agreed that this is a highly technical subject and not so much an economical subject.

  • Starting point can be 'to measure' the amount of ice on the North Pole and 'to monitor' how much this amount decreases year by year. This is a rather easy subject.
  • A second step is to establish what the causes are of this decrease. One cause can be an increase in global temperature.
  • This raises the questions what are the causes of this increase, specific is this caused by human activities and which are the most specific. This is a very important question because the assumption is that if these human activities are decreased, the increase should diminish.

page 62

In chapter 17 I try to inventory what lessons we can draw from history, as it is presented recorded in the following parts and chapters and make an attempt to outline the contours of a possible participatory socialism for the twenty-first century.
In doing so, I focus in particular on the forms that an equitable distribution of property could take, with two important pillars on the one hand and real power sharing in companies and voting rights for employees, making it possible to establish a form of social ownership and move forward with co-determination and self-government; and, on the other hand, a strong progressive tax on wealth, which can finance the donation of a substantial sum of money to any young adult, and which can establish a form of temporary possession as well as a permanent circulation of wealth.
This is a very complex issue and cannot be discussed in one sentence.
The overall problem is that any form of redistribution is easy in a small village and becomes the more difficult the larger this community becomes. If not impossible.
What makes this also difficult if what you call your property is only immaterial (cash) or includes also material products.
If you consider a small village to calculate how much money the community owns is rather simple and to divide it equal among all people (if that is what you want) is also simple.
To do the same with all the products the people own, including houses and paintings is much more difficult. When you own all, which you consider you property things are rather simple. But when that is not the case you have to sell this property and pay of your debts. But who is going to buy these properties?

Chapter 11

Social Democratic Societies: Imperfect Equality.

page 520

What were called capitalist countries, in fact, became social democratic societies between 1950 and 1980, with different arrangements for nationalization, education, health care and pensions, as well as progressive taxation on the highest incomes and inheritances.
In a certain sense nothing is wrong with this. The main problem is how does this influences the people who actual have work, versus the people who don't have work.

page 551

By 2015, the number of working hours in Germany and France was between 1,400 and 1,500 per job per year, compared to nearly 1,700 in the United Kingdom and 1,800 in the United States.
What is important to know is the labour force in each country, compared to the total population.

page 552

Be that as it may, and whatever you may think about the weekly working hours or the number of paid holidays chosen by the different countries, the point here is that the average labour productivity, measured by GDP per hour worked, in Germany and France in the early years 1950 was twice as low as in the United States and that they have become almost equal in the period 1985-1990, while the United Kingdom remained about 20% behind. See Figure 11.4
What this means that labour productivity is an important issue for each country which IMO means that the higher this productivity the richer the country is.

page 558

The decline of the working classes in the United States after 1980

Chapter 13

Hypercapitalism: between modern and archaic

page 689

page 739

Impoverishment of the poor states and liberalization of trade

Now we come to a theme that lies at the heart of the development of global inequality in the early twenty-first century: the relative and somewhat contradictory impoverishment in recent decades of the world's poorest states, particularly in South Africa. Sahara and in South and Southeast Asia.
The question is: what is de reason for this impoverishment?
War? the climate? economic reasons? The rest of the world does not care?

page 1025

Impasses and cripples of the populism debate.

In this research I have tried as much as possible to avoid the use of the term 'populism'.
The problem is that the concept populism is not an ideology. Many humans classify our opponents as a "populist". This more or less implies that we don't agree with someone and that our opinion i.e. solution is correct. The actual problem is that mostly both parties don't understand that the subjects discussed are very complex.
Even this book is IMO populistic: It under estimates the practical problems to create an equal and worldwide system based on equality.
The reason for this is simple: this concept does not lend itself to a correct analysis of the developments that are taking place.
Anyone who uses the word populist is self also a populist. He or she disregards the opinion of his or her opponent in a discussion.
For all these reasons, it seems to me important to watch out for the deadlocks and pitfalls of the populism debate and to focus on the substantive questions surrounding the property system, the fiscal, social and educational system and the border system, i.e., the questions surrounding the social, fiscal and political institutions that could contribute to the establishment of a just society and the victory of class divisions over identitarian divisions.
Very important is an equal distribution of the production processes. This includes the owners of these production processes. General speaking the owners should be the citizens of the country where the production processes are. That means most of the profit will stay within the country. This include farming land and the farmers.

Chapter 17

Building blocks for a participatory socialism for the twenty-first century.

page 1030

In this book I have tried to write a reasoned history of the inegalitarian regimes from the tri-state societies and old slave states to the modern, hyper-capitalist, postcolonial societies.
The history and evolution in humans their behaviour is what it is. It can more or less be expected that the societies created are not everywhere the same, given local circumstances.
All human societies must justify their inequality.
The problem is not so much that their are inequalities, but much more the degree of these inequalities. One thing is that the changes should not be implemented by means of force and definitely not by war.
The conservative revolution of the 1980s, the demise of Soviet communism and the development of the neo-proprietary type brought wealth and income concentrations to the world in the early 21st century that reached impressive, unfettered levels.
What ever the cause the difference between the rich and the poor has increased.
This inequality causes increasing social tensions almost everywhere.
In reality this is a slow process. Part of the problem is that the rich should realise this inequality, specific to accept that this is not okay. To reverse this situation is a complex process
In the absence of a constructive political plan with an egalitarian, universal perspective, those frustrations deepen the increasingly sharp identitarian divides and nationalist divisions that are now emerging almost everywhere in the world, from the United States and Europe, India and Brazil to China and the Middle East.
To expect a political plan to realise the tension is not enough. The people of all civilised nations should realise that their is something wrong.

page 1031

I am convinced that on the basis of available historical data it is possible to go beyond the current capitalist system and to outline the contours of a new, participatory socialism for the twenty-first century, i.e., a new egalitarian perspective on universal equality, based on social property, education and the sharing of knowledge and power.
What is important that there should be an unversal declared statement of rights that all people have a right to labour, food, education, medical and protection. The minimum and maximum values should be specified.
Let's face it: it is folly to want to respond to such complex questions with completely satisfied, convincing answers, solutions that you only have to apply with your eyes closed.
No one expect that. The problem is that all the plans should be clear and universal accepted. The major issue is that people should realise, that they who own the most have to transfer a certian amount of their wealth, goods or benefits to they who own the least.

page 1032

Justice as participation and as consultation.

What is a just society?
It is better to ask the question: what is the type of society we want for every one.
In the context of this book, I propose the following imperfect definition.
The definition should at least be practible and reasonable
A just society allows all its members access to the widest elemental profit possible.
This sentence contains two words which are tricky: access and profit.
The major problem is how is this controlled and maintained.

page 1034

Let's face it: Finally, the options defended here fit this thought: suppose we have an infinite amount of time to have conversations in a huge, global marketplace to convince the world's citizens what the best way is to manage the property system, tax and to organize the education system, the border system and the democratic system itself.

page 1035

On transcending capitalism and private property

page 1037

Power distribution in the companies: an experimenting strategy

page 1040

Progressive Wealth Tax and the Circulation of Capital

page 1044

Asset allocation and the universal capital endowment

The progressive wealth tax is an indispensable tool for circulating wealth more than has happened to date.
what this sentence implies that progressive wealth tax should be implemented more, because the results are possive.
But whatever the importance of this historical development, we must not lose sight of the fact that there have always been very large concentrations of property.
I expect that almost every one, who observes the evaluation of wealth, knows this.

page 1045

This limited distribution of wealth implies that the poorest 50% have always had limited opportunities to participate in economic life, especially in managing companies.
In the twenty first century elementary education is almost available for all people, but that is something completly different than managing a company. In that case more eductation is required.
These interventions have played an important role in the distribution of property in the different areas.
The question is if the actual results were accordingly the expected results.
Mainly because they lead to a strong concentration of economic power in a few hands.
That means the actual results were not as expected.

page 1046

If we really want to diversify property and thus ensure that the 50% of the poorest will own a significant part of the assets and participate fully in economic life, it therefore seems essential to generalize the concept of 'land reform' by into a permanent process of reforming all private capital.
What this sentence implies that the 50% of the poorest should receive a certain amount of property and assets from the 50% of richest. It is not explicitly stated how much the 50% of the poorest should actual own compared to the rest. If it is a permanent process than this transfer should go in steps.
The most logical way seems to be to set up a system whereby every young adult, for example at the age of 25, receives a gift, which is financed through a progressive wealth tax.
The question who pays this tax and when.

The triptych of progressive taxes: wealth, income and inheritance.

The tax system of a just society should be based on three major progressive taxes: a progressive annual wealth tax, a progressive inheritance tax, and a progressive income tax.
This should be realised in every country (I expect). If that is the case there will be a transfer of capital inside each country, but not between different countries.

page 1048

The exact choice of parameters would require in-depth discussions and broad democratic deliberation and this text does not feel called to have the last word in that debate.
All of that makes sense, but is not very helpfull. What is helpfull is to study one example in detail and specific what happens if certain parameters in Table 17.1 are modified.
With a yield of about 5% of the national income from wealth tax and inheritance tax, it is possible for every young adult of 25 years to finance a gift amounting to about 60% of the average wealth of an adult.(2)
To understand what is involved, the situation in France is specific used to study in more detail.
(2) In France, for example, each age group consists of 750,000 - 800,000 people, with an adult population of about 50 million and a total population of 67 million.
That means we are considering here 50.000.000/800.000 = 60 adults are in each age groups.
Total private wealth in all these countries is in the order of 5 to 6 years of national income.
The national income in france in 2018 is roughly euro. See:
Total private wealth is 5.5 * = euro.
A gift of 60% of the average adult wealth corresponds to a 3-3.5 year average national income per adult, at a total cost of the order of 5% of the national income from the moment such amount is distributed each year under 1.5% of the adult population.
For more details see: and select: Annexe au chapitre 17
Wealth per adult = =14.000 Euro. 60% of this wealth = 8000 Euro.
National income per adult = 2.000.0000.000/800.000 = 2500 Euro. Over a period of 3 years is that 7500 Euro
Cost is 5% of National income = 5 * / 100 = 100.000.000 Euro.
Cost per age group = 100.000.000 / 800.000=1250 Euro

page 1049

The system proposed here can give any young adult a new personal, professional life with a net worth equal to 60% of the average net worth, providing opportunities to buy a home or finance a project for a business.
To start a new business and to finance it yourself, is a very risky exercise. To buy the business of your self-employed father is the least risky (if that is what you want)
The best way to start your working life is to find a permanent job. That gives security.
The system proposed here could provide a very strong rejuvenation of wealth and it is obvious that such a thing would be excellent for social and economic dynamics.
That is the question. If every one receives from the community, in which he lives, a house when reaching the age of 25, than that same community should also take care that one house is available (or was build) at that day.
To do the same, but than related to work is much more difficult.
The proposed system has a long tradition. history. As early as 1795, Thomas Paine, in his book Agrarian Justice, advocated the creation of an inheritance tax to fund a basic income system.
In stead of 'tradition' the word 'history' is better.
There are two issues: The definition of 'a basic income' and how that is paid.
'A basic income' means that every one (citizen ?) between the age of 18 and 65, every month, should earn a minimum amount.
The why should be discussed and who should pay.
The most important new aspect of the proposal formulated here is to use, in addition to the proceeds of inheritance tax, that of an annual progressive wealth tax to finance the donation.
The central issue to transfer a certain amount of money every year between different groups of citizens.

page 1050

page 1051

On the return of progressive taxes and the permanent land reform

page 1055

On the road to social and temporary possession

In summary, the model of participatory socialism proposed here rests on two essential pillars, which aim to transcend the current system of private property, on the one hand through social ownership and voting rights division in enterprises, on the other through temporary ownership and circulation of capital.

page 1056

Domestic openness about property

page 1061

About the establishment of tax law in the constitution

page 1067

The Basic Income and a Fair Salary: The Role of the Progressive Income Tax

page 1069

Here I want to clarify what role basic income plays in the welfare state and just society.
Three important concepts are discussed: basic income, the welfare state and just society.
This would involve 30% of the population and cost a total of 5% of the national income
Again, these figures and percentages are for illustrative purposes only.
The real numbers are important. They serve as a target, to monitor the present state and to decide if actions have to be taken.
It is not appropriate here to make these kinds of choices, as they require a broad social discussion.
This book should serve as a quidance about the choices we have and what the implications are.
The final target should be the same for all: We want to live in a more equal world, where the wealth is more equally distributed.

page 1072

The issue of a progressive CO2 tax

Moreover, tackling climate change requires a lifestyle transformation so profound that the social and political consent of the majority can only be achieved through the shaping of highly ambitious, verifiable standards of justice.
The climate problem is primairly a physical problem. Part of this problem can be human related. That means humans have made certain change which influence the climate. The first step is to make a list of these physical changes. The second step is to rate the seriousness of these changes. The third step is to stop these changes and try to compensate, to undo or reverse these changes.
Or to put it more concretely: It is easy to imagine how the less wealthy classes in the rich countries like the developing countries would be willing to make considerable sacrifices, as long as they feel that the higher classes are seen from the tops of the pyramids of power, lifestyle and emissions levels will look down on them undisturbed.

Therefore, the measures discussed above to combat inequality, and in particular the tightening of the progressive content of taxes on the highest incomes and wealth, are a necessary precondition for really tackling climate change.

page 1075

On the creation of a standard for equitable education

page 1081

The end of the hypocrisy of education; promoting transparency

page 1086

Just Democracy: Vouchers for Democratic Equality.

page 1089

Towards a participatory and egalitarian democracy.

page 1092

The Just Frontier: A Revision of Social Federalism on a Global Scale.

page 1096

Towards transnational justice

page 1102

Between cooperation and isolation: the development of the transnational, inegalitarian system

page 1103

page 1104

page 1105

To summarize: globalization, which has taken its current ideological shape since the 1980s-1990s, is in a period of crisis and transition
Like all concepts; we need a clear definition what globalization means.
In practise globalization means to transfer production to where it can be produced as cheap as possible.
What globalization should mean is that identical products should be produced equal all over the world.


page 1107

page 1107

History as an ideological struggle and a search for justice

page 1110

How difficult it is to escape from a western perspective.

page 1112

The social and political role of the social sciences

page 1114

Whether the reader agrees or not with some of the conclusions doesn't really matter to me.
Strange sentence. In some sense this means, that the book more or less written, to put the thoughts of the writer on paper.
Because my aim is to start the discussion, not settle it.
At the same time it should have some clear discussion points.
If this book arouses the interest of readers in new issues and offers them the opportunity to acquire knowledge, then my aim has been fully accomplished.
That is a too honest comment, to finish the book.

Reflection 1 - Chapter 0

Generally speaking, the book: "Capital and Ideology" by Thomas Piketty, is a very clear book. That does not mean that each sentence word by word is easy to understand, but it are the overall thoughts that count. And those thoughts are easy to grasp and to discuss.
Chapter 0 discusses the overall concepts of each chapter in general. It is a good introduction.

Reflection 2 - Chapter 1 - 16

The contents of all the chapters 1 - 16 is important
However the overall opinion is that the length is too long compared with chapter 17.

Reflection 3 - Chapter 17

This is the most important chapter of the book: How to create a more equal global society
However this chapter is too short.
In fact, there are two different questions:
  1. How to create a more equal global society (or whatever your object is)
  2. And once you have reached an equal society: How to maintain this equal global society
      Assume that our start point is that the wealth in your society is not equally distributed.
      Assume that the major tool we are going to use is by raising the taxes mainly on the rich, by reducing the taxes on the poor.
      Most probably that will work but not for all. That means some rich people, in certain areas, will escape and the same for the poor. But it can be more disastrous: some people which see their wealth diminishing will escape to these areas while the poor cannot do that.

      The main problem is how to divide the goods and products between all its members. To do that between the continents is extremely difficult. The result should be that each human one should have more or less the same living conditions, but that is difficult to achieve.
      To divide capital and money is in some extend simpler. However, there is a real difference to do that global between continents, between the countries within one continent or within each country. The last one is the simplest.

      A very difficult to answer question is: How equal should the global society be.
      One question to answer is if the person who invented the steam engine, or the team that was involved in improving the steam engine in anyway should be financial rewarded.
      One more basic question is: who are the owners of the factory that make these steam engines. This question is important if 'the owners' want to sell this factory. However, before 'the owners' want to sell the factory they must answer the question: why?

Reflection 4 - A society with two parties.

In this reflection I want to discuss how difficult it is in a society with two parties to try diminish possible inequalities.
Consider a society with two parties A and B. The current situation of the number of members in parliament is 50% A and 50% B. From historical perspective, within families, people either vote on A or B. What the results also shows that the number of times that A wins or B is equal. When you consider the voters of A and of B the build-up is roughly speaking the same: 10% is rich, 80% is middle and 10% is poor. For the members in parliament (chosen by the people) this is also the same for both parties: 70% rich, 30% middle.

Now suppose there is a bill on the table, issued by A, which benefits the poor more than the rich. What will happen

What this example wants to discuss, that it can be very difficult to propose a bill that has a personal disadvantage for most members of the parliament.
This will be different if the members vote more in accordance with the wishes of the voters.
A different way to influence the voting is by external 'pressure' groups which try to convince the members of parliament of both parties A and B, to accept the bill in favour of the overall benefits for the society as a whole; in favour of the poor, and not consider their own interests.



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