Philosophical Critique of Piketty


Kevin Vallier (Bowling Green) has begun a five part series of posts assessing the normative political philosophy in Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. He writes:

In this series, I am interested only in the following question: supposing that Piketty is right about the nature of capitalism, what are the normative implications? My answer will be that it’s far less clear than Piketty thinks. If you want to draw normative conclusions from Capital then you will have to significantly reconstruct his arguments. I will attempt some reconstruction in these posts, mostly in a Rawlsian spirit, as I’ve been informed that Piketty in person has said he’s sympathetic to Rawlsian approaches to distributive justice, though what he says in Capital in this regard is very minor.

Some will complain that Piketty is an economist and so we cannot expect him to be familiar with contemporary political philosophy. If that were true, Piketty should not have made the detailed normative claims he makes throughout the book. If you make claims about how wealth ought to be distributed, and you want your work to be influential, you owe it to your readers to be careful or at least show basic familiarity with principles of distributive justice. This is further buttressed by the fact that Piketty stresses the need to make economics empirically and normatively relevant, especially for the sake of democratic deliberation. So he is committed by his own lights to the validity of philosophical scrutiny of his arguments.

The first in the series of posts can be found at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

UPDATE: I have been reminded (reprimanded?) that philosophy uber-blogger Eric Schliesser has been posting on Piketty for a while now at Digressions & Impressions, with the posts collected here. Also, Robert Paul Wolff had a series of posts on Piketty at The Philosopher’s Stone, the first of which is here. Chris Bertram posted on Piketty at Crooked Timber a while back, too. I don’t mean to leave anyone out (bad memory, busy with actual work, etc.), so feel free to supplement the list in the comments.

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Luke Ford (@lukejf01)
7 years ago

A philosopher agreeing with John Rawls? Groundbreaking. Also, someone mentioned this in the comments of the linked article, but in interviews and such, Piketty is not so vain as to assume his normative claims on what we ought to do in economics are correct. He instead points out that the structure of the book lends itself to allow the readers to draw their own conclusions, but asks only that you take his premises into serious consideration, for there are probably many ways to make his argument and economics in general empirically and normatively relevant. The long and short of it: if you disagree with him, it must be regarding his premise of capital centralizing in a capitalist economic system, that is, without the tumultuous events that occurred in the 20th Century.Report