French economist Thomas Piketty’s latest West-oriented book “Time for Socialism” is about worsening wealth inequality in an ever worsening global climate crisis. His solutions for Western economies include a just and progressive income tax, wealth taxes, carbon taxes, and economic justice for the poor and the young. Because capital begets more capital he argues for a  big grant to 25 year olds when they could benefit most, at the start of their working lives.

time for socialism“Time for Socialism” is a collection of 60 essays by Thomas Piketty over the period 2016-2021, and is mostly concerned with the rich countries of the Eurozone, the UK and the US. However within this broad-ranging collection of essays he also briefly applies his analysis  and prescriptions to the rest of the world, notably Japan, India and Brazil [1]. However at the outset it must be stated that arguments for greater sharing have vastly greater cogency and urgency in relation to the deadly inequity between the rich global North and the impoverished global South. A fundamental  and serious criticism is that this enormous reality is largely ignored in this overwhelmingly Western-focussed book.

My take on just a few  selected parts of this very wide-ranging and richly informative and ideas-rich book of 60 essays is set out below.

(1). The science-based eco-socialist perspective – poverty kills and Climate Genocide may kill 10 billion people this century and mostly in the global South. Piketty is an economist, but not a climate scientist or a biologist, and while he indicates that urgent climate action is needed he does not elaborate.

As a scientist aware for 3 decades of a worsening climate crisis and biodiversity crisis, I have  long appreciated the unavoidable requirement for much greater sharing of limited resources to avoid mass suffering and indeed mass mortality. Thus it has been estimated that for everyone to have an American lifestyle we would need 7 planets and to have a European lifestyle we would need 3 planets [2, 3].  However we are presently  unsustainably exploiting the resources of the world on a 2 planet basis. Further, the profits from this global drive are divided up with extreme inequity. Thus in  2020 the richest 1% (the One Percenters) owned 46% of the world’s wealth whereas the poorest 55% owned a mere 1.3% – in round figures, the top 1% owning 50% and the bottom 50% owning 1% [4, 5].

Inequality.org on the worsening wealth inequality: “In 2009 the combined wealth of the world’s richest 380 people equalled the wealth of the bottom half.  By 2018, just 26 billionaires had as much as the bottom half” [4]. Capital begets capital, and Oxfam reports: “The world’s small elite of 2,755 billionaires has seen its fortunes grow more during Covid-19 than they have in the whole of the last fourteen years combined. The wealth of the 10 richest men has doubled, while the incomes of 99% of humanity are worse off, because of COVID-19… Inequality is deadly. We estimate that it contributes to the deaths of at least 21,300 people each day—or one person every four seconds [7.8 million people per year]” [5].

Numerous climate scientists and science-informed climate activists have urged a return of the atmospheric CO2 to the pre-Industrial Revolution level of circa 300 ppm CO2 for a safe and sustainable planet for all peoples and all species. The excellent 350.org organization demands a return to at most 350 ppm CO2 from the present atmospheric level of 420 ppm CO2 and which is increasing at a record rate. Professor James Hansen has stated that 320 ppm CO2 is needed for sustainable summer sea ice in the Arctic, and the Royal Society reported that world coral started dying at an atmospheric level of 320 ppm CO2. [6, 7]. Indeed coral reefs can be used as a “canary in the mine” to determine where we should be for safety. Thus the atmospheric CO2 was 320 ppm CO2 in 1965 when the human population was about 3.5 billion. From this we can estimate that the human population needs to roughly halve from the present 7.8 billion, with a corresponding halving of economic activity (noting that the economic de-growth burden must be mainly borne by rich European societies to permit the global South to advance to a modest level of existence) [2].

Poverty kills. Thus in 2004 about 16 million  people died avoidably from deprivation (mostly in the global South)  but in 2020 this annual death toll had shrunk to 7.4 million [8, 9].  At present only about 1 million people die annually from climate change but this is set to rise enormously  during this century. Thus it is estimated that in the absence of requisite urgent action on climate change about 10 billion people will die avoidably from climate change this century in a worsening Climate Genocide en route to a sustainable human population of only about 1 billion in 2100 [7, 10].

(2). “Long Live Socialism!” introduces this collection of 60 essays. Piketty argues for a  “participatory socialism enabling greater circulation of power and ownership” (p10 [1] ) and argues for a “minimum inheritance for all [of $180,000] … paid out at the age of twenty-five. Such an inheritance for all would represent an annual expenditure of 5% of [French] national income” (page 13 [1]). It often takes money to make money, and this suggestion would enable all young people (and not just the children of the rich) to have a go. He also argues “for a feminist, multiracial, and universalist system” (page 22 [1]) to overcome patriarchy and the legacy of colonialism.

(3).  “Toward a different globalization, 2016-2017” comprises 13 essays variously on inequality including gender pay inequality, “basic income or fair wage”, equality in China, public capital and private capital, and populism. In several essays Piketty argues for a “Democratic Eurozone Government” that would be democratically constituted and overcome the veto of sensible economic policies by small members of the Eurozone.

(4).   “What reforms for France? 2017-2018” covers key topics such as inequality in France, “Suppression of the wealth tax: A historical error”, “Trump, Macron: Same fight”, “Europe, migrants and trade”, and inequality-born populism in the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, Italy and Brazil. Piketty explores the theme of how inequality and poverty have engendered xenophobic populism that was most evident in Trump America. Piketty describes the new political divide involving the traditional left and well-educated and prosperous progressives on the Left, and the traditional Big Money right and the poor and angry Trumpist populists joining forces on the Right. Primitive greed and xenophobia trump reason and humanity (pun intended). For related analyses of these new political alignments see [11, 12]. The well-educated and prosperous progressives on the Left are informed about the climate crisis and other issues, and can afford requisite societal action for the sake of their children and grandchildren. The poor,  angry, ill-educated and misinformed Trumpists are backed by billionaire wealth but lack the wit to perceive the paradox – hence the acronym SIEG (as in Sieg Heil! ) for the Stupid, Ignorant and Egregiously Greedy (SIEG) Right.

Piketty gets to the heart of the problems of “informed democracies” and “worker participation” in “Le Monde and the billionaires” (pages 204-207 [1]). While Germany and Sweden profit by having substantial worker presence on boards, this remains controversial elsewhere. Workers must be able to afford the goods and services they produce and have a substantial say in how they are produced. Throughout the book Piketty repeats the basic truth of his “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”:  that inequality is bad for the economy (the poor cannot afford the goods and services they produce) and bad for democracy (Big Money buys public perception of reality and hence votes) [13, 14]. Piketty condemns the Big Money takeover of Le Monde if it constrains truth telling. Indeed the Anglosphere “democracies” have become kleptocracies, plutocracies, Murdochracies, corporatocracies, lobbyocracies and dollarocracies in which Big Money purchases people, politicians, policies, public perception of reality, and hence votes, more political power and more private profit.

(5). “To love Europe is to change it, 2018-2020” commences “Manifesto for the democratization of Europe” (pages 211-216) that demands a democratic European Assembly with a budget financed  by 4 major European taxes that will apply to the profits of major firms, top incomes (over 200,000 euros per year), highest wealth owners (over 1 million euros), and the carbon emissions (with a minimal price of 30 euros per ton [of carbon or CO2?]. This Budget would assist “research, training, and the European universities, an ambitious investment program to transform our model of economic growth , the financing of the reception and integration of migrants, and the support of those involved in operating the transformation” (page 213 [1]).

(6). “Wealth Tax in America” (page 226 [1]) is a particularly sharp essay that describes how top income tax rates in rich countries steadily rose to circa 80% in the period 1910-1980 but then collapsed back to circa 40% (1980-2020) (page 227 [1]). Likewise inheritance tax rates in rich countries  (the US, UK, Germany, France and Japan) rose to about 80% in the period 1910-1980, but then collapsed back to about 40% in the post-1980 neoliberal order (page 229 [1]). The US and the rich European countries have made a massive wealth shift from the poor to the rich, an obscene and deadly process that has been exacerbated in the Covid-19 pandemic. The presently globally dominant neoliberal ideology demands maximal freedom for the smart and advantaged to exploit the natural and human resources of the world for private profit,  with a hypothetical “trickle down” benefit for the poor. This ruthless ideology has led us to decimation of the Biosphere and to the edge of the Climate Genocide precipice.

Capital begets capital and Oxfam reports: “Twenty of the richest billionaires are estimated, on average, to be emitting as much as 8,000 times more carbon than the billion poorest people” [5]. This latter statistic suggests a novel partial solution the Climate Crisis and the Wealth Inequality Gap. Thus monogamy is generally accepted for everyone, even for billionaires, although great Kings and Sultans in the past had large harems. However an even more compelling constraint would be that each human being (including billionaires) could have no greater carbon footprint  than that of, say, an average American. Billionaires would accordingly be compelled to give away their wealth or to expend it only on “green” projects such as re-afforestation and renewable energy schemes.

(7). “Basic income in India” (pages 235-239) discusses the Congress plan  for a basic income in India. A great idea.

(8). “The illusion of centrist ecology” (pages 244-248) is of major importance given the worsening climate crisis. Piketty importantly declares (pages 245-245 [1]): ”However it is increasingly clear that the resolution of the climate challenge will not be possible without a strong movement in the direction of the reduction of social inequality at all levels. With the present magnitude of inequality, the advance towards austerity of energy will be wishful thinking, because carbon emissions are strongly concentrated among the rich. At the global level, the richest 10% are responsible for almost half the emissions, and the top 1% alone emit more carbon than the poorest half of the planet. A drastic reduction of the purchasing power of the richest [by a wealth tax] would therefore in itself have a substantial impact on the reduction of emissions at the global level.”

(9). “After climate denial, the inequality denial” (pages 272-275). Piketty: “In the wake of the denial of global warming, now on the wane, at least superficially, are we at present witnessing the denial of the rise in inequality?”  (page 272 [1]). For non-economists the most readily available comparative data are of  “GDP per capita” that Piketty expertly criticizes for technical reasons . Technically flawed as it may be, the GDP per capita of $3,400 for Occupied Palestinians as compared to that of $46,400 for the Occupier Apartheid Israel is a startling comparison and evidence of gross violation of Articles 55 and 56 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that unequivocally demand that an Occupier must supply its conquered Subjects with life-sustaining food and medical requisites “to the fullest extent of the means available to it”. This differential in Palestine is associated with a 10 year life expectancy gap between Occupier and Occupied. In general, the inequality gap between the global North and the global South is massive and deadly as set out in my book “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” . In 2020 about 7.4 million people died avoidably from deprivation, with this carnage overwhelmingly (98.8%)  occurring in the non-European world  [8, 9]. The European world resolutely looks the other way.

(10). “Europe, migrants and trade” (pages 190-194 [1]) . Piketty refers to “the sensitive issue of the [UN Population Division] World Population Prospects established for the decades to come” but ignores the horrendous under-5 infant mortality and avoidable mortality from deprivation in the global South as compared to the minimal amount in the global North  (see item #9 above). Piketty uses the UN data in a Eurocentric way to merely consider immigration flows into the rich global North that simply does not want to know about what is happening in the Developing World. I am reminded of the poem: “As I was going up the stair / I met a man who wasn’t there! / He wasn’t there again today! I wish, I wish he’d go away!”

(11). “Confronting racism, repairing history” (pages 301-304) notes the massive compensation paid to former slave owners but not to liberated slaves in the US, British colonies and French colonies. Astonishingly, such payments were paid by Haiti in the period from 1825 to 1950!

(12). “The fall of the U.S. idol, 2020-2021” deals with topics including “Can the Left unite on Europe”, “What to do with Covid debt?”, “Global inequality: where do we stand?”, and finally “The fall of the U.S. idol(“ pages 329-334 [1]). Piketty describes the horrendous tale of injustice from slavery to civil  rights in the 1960s, and notes the Republican acquisition of a big slice of the “White” vote from the angry White proletariat. He concludes this section and the book thus: “If the Democrats want to regain the socially disadvantaged vote, whatever its origin, then more needs to be done in terms of social justice and redistribution. The road ahead will be long and arduous. All the more reason to get started now.” (page 333 [1]).

Final comments

Thomas Piketty makes out a powerful case for proper wealth taxes, wealth transparency, suitably progressive income taxes, and carbon taxes. However Piketty, a socialist,  is writing for an innately  conservative, selfish,  “realistic”, pragmatic and relatively prosperous Western audience that is  massively lied to Mainstream journalist, editor, politician, academic and commentariat  presstitutes “manufacturing  consent” for the neoliberal order [15]. He could have been much bolder in his arguments and wishes. Thus Eurocentric Piketty sensibly recommends greater intergenerational justice through improvement of  educational opportunities in Europe, and action on climate change.   However a global South perspective demands huge change immediately to stop the carnage whereby 5.3 million non-European  under-5 year old infants perished in 2020 as compared to only 66,000 European under-5 year old infants [8, 9].

Similarly,  tough action on climate change will involve rapid action ensuring that the environmental and social cost of pollution is “fully borne” by the polluters as recommended by science-trained Pope Francis [16, 17]. Eminent economist Nicholas Stern has clearly stated the hard reality that: “The problem of climate change involves a fundamental failure of markets: those who damage others by emitting greenhouse gases generally do not pay” [18]. The world’s average applied Carbon Price is presently $2 per tonne CO2-equivalent as compared to the $200 per tonne CO2-equivalent it should be [7]. For a safe and sustainable world for all peoples and all species the  atmosphere CO2 must be reduced to the pre-Industrial Revolution level of circa 300 ppm CO2 from the present 420 ppm CO2 that is increasing at a record rate [7, 19]. The world is existentially threatened by nuclear weapons and climate change, and eminent physicist Stephen Hawking has clearly stated the actions needed: “We see great peril if governments and societies do not take action NOW [my emphasis] to render nuclear weapons obsolete and to prevent further climate change” [20].

Massive inequities in wealth and power mean that the world remains in the grip of the greedy neoliberal order that seeks to maximize freedom to exploit the natural and human resources of the world for private profit. However social humanism (socialism, eco-socialism, democratic socialism, human rights-cognizant communism, universal basic income, the welfare state) seeks to sustainably maximize human happiness, opportunity and dignity through culturally-cognizant and evolving intra-national and international social contracts [21, 22]. Reflected in the 1,000-fold greater than normal species extinction rate of our present  Anthropocene Era, the world is over-populated by a factor of 2, and worsening resource limitations will  mean either the sharing of socialism or a nightmare of active and passive mass murder.

The environmental and human benefits of a sane,  humane, sustainable and more equitable economy  would be enormous, but even Thomas Piketty’s  modest proposals have foundered in the face of opposition from corrupt, self-interested and politically correct racist (PC racist) Western leaders beholden to the neoliberal and dominant One Percenters. Thus, for example,  conservative France has drastically reduced its annual wealth tax, the signature economic measure proposed by Thomas Piketty (page 220 [1]). The hugely wealthy now distort democracy to the extent that impoverished white workers in the US are now voting in their droves for a mendacious billionaire involved in massive wealth transfer from the poor to the super-rich. This presently dominant  neoliberal perversion is nevertheless  vulnerable to humanity and truth. Thus a resolute majority return to 2 fundamental human values of (1) “love thy neighbour as thyself” and (2) “zero tolerance for lying” would really enable “Time for Socialism” in glorious practice throughout the world.

References

[1]. Thomas Piketty, “Time for Socialism”, Yale University Press, 2021.

[2]. Gideon Polya, “How much negative carbon emissions, negative population growth & negative economic growth is needed to save Planet?”, Countercurrents, 28 November 2018: https://countercurrents.org/2018/11/how-much-negative-carbon-emissions-negative-population-growth-negative-economic-growth-is-needed-to-save-planet/ .

[3]. Irene Banos Ruiz , “China’s new love affair with dogs – as pets, not food – presents environmental  problems”, DW, 21 June 2016:  https://www.dw.com/en/chinas-new-love-affair-with-dogs-as-pets-not-food-presents-environmental-problems/a-19197523 .

[4]. Inequality.org: https://inequality.org/facts/global-inequality/ .

[5]. Oxfam (2021), A deadly virus: 5 shocking facts about global extreme inequality,  https://www.oxfam.org/en/5-shocking-facts-about-extreme-global-inequality-and-how-even-it .

[6]. 300.org – Return Atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppm CO2: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/300-org—return-atmosphere-co2-to-300-ppm .

[7]. Gideon Polya, “Climate Crisis, Climate Genocide & Solutions”, Korsgaard Publishing, Germany, 2020.

[8]. Gideon Polya,  “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950”,  first edition, GM Polya, Melbourne, 2007).

[9]. Gideon Polya, “Body Count. Global Avoidable Mortality Since 1950”, second edition, Korsgaard Publishing, Germany, 2021.

[10]. “Climate Genocide”: https://sites.google.com/site/climategenocide/ .

[11]. Gideon Polya, “Piketty Analysis Of Trumpism – Inequality & Populist Nativists Versus High Education Globalists”, Countercurrents, 30 October 2019: https://countercurrents.org/2019/10/piketty-analysis-of-trumpism-inequality-populist-nativists-versus-high-education-globalists/ .

[12]. Thomas Piketty, ”Brahmin Left versus the Merchant Right: rising inequality & the changing  structure of political conflict  (evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017)”, WID.world Working Paper Series No. 2018/ 7: http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/Piketty2018.pdf .

[13]. Thomas Piketty,  “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”, Harvard University Press, 2014.

[14]. Gideon Polya, “ Key Book Review: “Capital In The Twenty-First Century” By Thomas Piketty “, Countercurrents, 1 July, 2014: https://countercurrents.org/polya010714.htm .

[15]. Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, “Manufacturing Consent. The political economy of the mass media”, Pantheon, 2002.

[16]. Pope Francis , Encyclical Letter “Laudato si”, 2015: http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html .

[17]. Gideon Polya, “Pope Francis Demands “Fully Borne” Cost of Pollution (Carbon Price) To Prevent “Millions Of Premature Deaths”,  Countercurrents, 29 July, 2015: https://countercurrents.org/polya290715.htm .

[18]. Alison Benjamin, “Stern: climate change a “market failure”’”, Guardian, 29 November 2007: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2007/nov/29/climatechange.carbonemissions .

[19]. 300.org – Return Atmosphere CO2 to 300 ppm CO2: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/300-org—return-atmosphere-co2-to-300-ppm.

[20]. Stephen Hawking, “Brief Answers to the Big Questions”,  John Murray, UK, 2018..

[21]. Brian Ellis, “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” ,  Routledge , UK , 2012.

[22]. Gideon Polya, “Book Review: “Social Humanism. A New Metaphysics” By Brian Ellis –  Last Chance To Save Planet?”,  Countercurrents, 19 August, 2012: https://countercurrents.org/polya190812.htm.

Dr Gideon Polya taught science students at La Trobe University, Melbourne, Australia over 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, notably a huge pharmacological reference text “Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds”. He has also published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (2007, 2022) and “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (1998, 2008). He has recently published “US-imposed Post-9-11 Muslim Holocaust & Muslim Genocide” (2020), and “Climate Crisis, Climate Genocide & Solutions” (2021). For images of Gideon Polya’s huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: http://sites.google.com/site/artforpeaceplanetmotherchild/  .


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