Slides on Piketty’s Capital

I spoke at an event dedicated to Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century last night in Vancouver. It was great to have a conversation about inequality, economics and politics with an overflowing, diverse crowd. There is a palatable hunger for an understanding of what is going on today and what kind of political action can generate broad-based mobilization.

I’m posting my slides from that discussion here. They focus on the theory in Piketty’s work and are partly expository as one of the aims of the event was to introduce the arguments of the book. However, I have tried to raise some substantive points about how the book and its myriad empirical observations open the door to future avenues of exploration — especially exploration that takes politics seriously and wants to deepen the tradition of political economy.

One of the fruitful things about the book is door it opens out of the stuffy rooms of neoclassical economics back towards political economy. All the more important, however, to remember the task of carrying out a “Critique of Political Economy” (the subtitle of that other Capital): a serious engagement that is at once a serious critique.

Slides in PDF ]

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We can’t all be workers: Putting inequality in the inequality debate

It’s easy to get confused about who is a worker and who isn’t these days. Your CEO may worker longer hours than you, not the top-hatted capitalist of the Monopoly board he. Indeed, it may seem that the leisure class of the turn of the last century has been replaced by the workaholic professional and managerial class of today. Yet, if everyone is a worker and no one is a capitalist, then how can we still be living under capitalism?

The short answer is we can’t…or, better yet, we are, which means that not everyone can be a worker, no matter how hard they try and how many hours they put in. These reflections are a continuation of something I just posted on the Progressive Economics Forum. With all the talk these days in Canada about income inequality and the shrinking middle class, I thought it might be a good idea to take another look at the labour share of income. I concluded that post with the following chart.

Figure 1. The labour share of income, with and without the 1%.
Figure 1. The labour share of income, with and without the 1%. (Source: Statistics Canada and World Top Incomes Database).

I think this has some of the answers as to why it is unhelpful to talk about the very highest income earners as workers. The reason is economic power, for which the labour share of income is a proxy. The widening gap between the income share made up by total employment income and the employment income of the bottom 99% shows precisely a gap in power. The highest earners disproportionately affect the power of labour, but they do so not as uber-workers but as something different entirely. (more…)

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