This past week the controversy about Jo Becker’s book chronicling the marriage equality movement proceeded apace, with her own newspaper, The New York Times, which sponsored her investigative work, panning her efforts. Adam Goodheart wrote:
History does show that, as Ms. Becker proposes, a small team of canny strategists can sometimes force revolutionary change — more so than politicians or philosophers. [Rosa] Parks herself was a member of such a team, not the simple seamstress that legend has made her.
The [Hollingsworth v. Perry] case, though, was hardly such an instance. The gay rights movement’s success has owed less to dramatic single triumphs than to inexorable, yet incremental, social and cultural changes: the kind that occur daily as gay couples move into middle-class suburbs, Bible Belt teenagers come out to their parents, and television shows feature gays and lesbians without fanfare or controversy.
Like the Scopes trial, the Perry lawsuit made good theater — but not a revolution.
Had she shown some humility and marketed the book solely as an exhaustive look at the intricacies of the Perry lawsuit, I expect none of this would have happened, and rather than defending herself on her current book tour, she would be riding a wave of acclaim for an embedded look at the work of a remarkable legal effort, spearheaded by the law’s most unexpectedly remarkable duo, Ted Olsen and David Boies. The book has not even made the top 25 on the New York Times bestseller list this week.
Another, far more important book, which might make a revolution, did make the bestseller list, and it’s quite a remarkable achievement that it did. This book has become so popular that it has sold out, and given that it’s over 700 pages long, the demand is both remarkable and exciting. The book is Professor Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and may be this generation’s equivalent of Das Kapital. The difference, though, is that Piketty is a first-rate economic historian and researcher who has made significant efforts to not allow any ideological bias to taint his findings, a concern that never influenced Karl Marx.
Piketty’s thesis is simple and based on 200-plus years of economic data from the industrialized world. As summarized by Steven Pearlstein:
There is nothing inevitable about the dominance of human capital over financial capital, and that there is inherent in the dynamics of capitalism a natural and destabilizing tendency toward inequality of income, wealth and opportunity.
Another reviewer, Thomas Edsall, points out:
Capitalism, according to Piketty, confronts both modern and modernizing countries with a dilemma: entrepreneurs become increasingly dominant over those who own only their own labor. In Piketty’s view, while emerging economies can defeat this logic in the near term, in the long run, “when pay setters set their own pay, there’s no limit,” unless “confiscatory tax rates” are imposed. … [T]raditional liberal government policies on spending, taxation and regulation will fail to diminish inequality.
In other words, unregulated capitalism tends toward greater and greater income and wealth inequality because the return on capital is much greater than economic growth. What distributes the fruits of economic growth among the people is not capitalism, as described by Milton Friedman, but government intervention to rein in the excessive returns on capital. The more perfect the market, the greater the unequal rates of growth, and the growing wealth inequality.