Monday, April 30, 2018

A Socialist Review of Piketty's Latest

From the World Socialist Web Site:

Social inequality and oligarchy in the US and Europe
21 April 2018

A paper published in March by French economist Thomas Piketty cites data showing that the “democratic” political systems in the US, France and Britain are oligarchies in which all the major parties are tools of the super rich, serving to manipulate the population and crush social opposition from below.

The paper, titled “Brahmin Left vs. Merchant Right: Rising Inequality and the Changing Structure of Political Conflict,” shows that the traditional “left” parties of the political establishment—the Democratic Party in the US, the Labour Party in Britain and the Socialist Party in France—have become the preferred parties of significant sections of the ruling elite, abandoning any pretense of social reform. Though the study does not explicitly address parties such as the German Social Democratic Party, the Spanish Socialist Party and the Italian Democratic Party, the process Piketty describes is a universal one.

“The general conclusion is clear,” Piketty writes. “We have gradually moved from a class-based party system to what I propose to label a ‘multiple-elite’ party system. Back in the 1950s-1960s, the party system was defined along class lines: the vote for the left-wing parties was associated to both low-education and low-income voters, while the vote for right-wing parties was associated to both high-education and high-income voters.”

These days are gone. Today, the political systems in these three countries have “little to do with the ‘left’ vs. ‘right’ party system of the 1950s-1960s” because the formerly “left” parties now mirror in social composition and program their Republican, Gaullist and Tory counterparts. “Each of the two governing coalitions alternating in power tends to reflect the views and interests of a different elite,” Piketty writes.

The absence of any major party with working class support helps “explain rising inequality”, because there are no mechanisms through which the working class can influence the direction of government policy. This has produced widespread disillusionment in the working class, which Piketty claims is responsible for both the rise of mass abstentionism and the strengthening of right-wing populism “as low education, low income voters might feel abandoned.”

The chart below tracks the difference between the Democratic Party share of voters in the top 10 percent of the income scale versus the Democratic Party share of voters in the bottom 90 percent over time.
The chart shows that in the 1940s through the early 1970s, working class voters were far more likely to support the Democratic presidential candidate. This began to shift in the mid-1970s, changing drastically over the course of the Obama presidency and culminating in the 2016 election, in which the Democratic vote share was 10 percent higher among the top 10 percent than it was among the bottom 90 percent....MUCH MORE
Here's "Brahmin Left vs Merchant Right: Rising Inequality & the Changing Structure of Political Conflict" (174 page PDF)

And here is Le Blog de Thomas Piketty