Piketty mania: how an economics lecture became the hottest gig in town

From The Guardian UK:  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/17/thomas-piketty-lse-capitalism-talk

The ‘rock star’ economist sold out his London talk at the LSE – but his doomy prognosis isn’t music to everyone’s ears

Thomas Piketty’s Capital: everything you need to know about the surprise bestseller


The Guardian, Tuesday 17 June 2014

With all due respect to the “dismal science”, this doesn’t happen often: hundreds of people are queueing round the block for an economics lecture on a lovely summer’s evening in London. And those are the people who have successfully booked seats. There’s another queue of shifty-looking people hoping for return tickets and steeling themselves for disappointment. This, one might well think, is a microcosm of the dysfunctionally inegalitarian society under late capitalism that the speaker indicts in his book: a society cruelly divided between the haves and the have-nots.

And there are other divisions: black and white, young and old, City suits and flip-flop-sporting slackers, women and men, venerable baldies and twentysomething asymmetric fringes, post-endogenous growth theorists and their bitter foes, pre-post-endogenous growth theorists (sometimes known as endogenous growth theorists). But the most emblematic social division for our purposes is that between those in the queues who moan loudly about being gouged by the merchandising (“£30 for a book? They’ve got to be kidding. Who can afford that?”) and those who’ve come clutching one, sometimes two copies of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in the dewy-eyed hope that its author, Professor Thomas Piketty, will deign to sign it. Piketty later apologises for not putting the book online, saying it was because his publisher wouldn’t like it: if he was really serious about reducing inequality, though, you’d think he’d ignore his publisher’s compunctions.

Outside the Peacock Theatre, round the corner from the London School for Economics, the mood resembles an oversubscribed first night: it’s ostensibly genteel and polite, but hides simmering resentments that could switch rapidly from sarcastic exchanges to elbow-shovings to full-on riot followed by zombie apocalypse if we don’t all get in.

Don’t these people know that they’re queueing to hear about the historic shifts in the capital-income ratio, modifications to the Kuznets curve and the elasticity of substitution of labour? The counterintuitive answer is that quite a lot of them do. For those who have lived through austerity years that have made the rich richer and the poor more desperate, for those who read Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett’s The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better and wondered how we could become more Nordically egalitarian, Piketty has a message they want to hear: economics should be used for good rather than evil, to effectively redistribute wealth. Pikettians don’t chant, but if they did it would go: “What do we want? An egalitarian shift in the ratio between g and r, where r is growth and g the return on capital. When do we want it? As soon as feasible, thanks.”

Continue reading at:  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/jun/17/thomas-piketty-lse-capitalism-talk

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