Wolff on Piketty: Inequality, the Wealth Divide & Lessons from Our Past

Professor Richard Wolff, author of Democracy at Work: A Cure for Capitalism, discusses Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century's research on inequality and the wealth divide while also offering a more systemic critique of capitalism. Piketty’s book is an exhaustive examination of income inequality, based on a formidable database that he and others assembled, that is available online. This gets us past what Piketty calls the “dialogue of the deaf,” where ideological blinders supplant analysis and informed debate. Piketty concludes that inequality is endemic to capitalism, that there is no factual basis to the argument that free market capitalism creates “a rising tide that lifts all boats.” Furthermore Piketty argues that inequality is a threat to both economic stability and democracy.

Going beyond Piketty, Wolff argues that the New Deal reforms, that provided the basis for a temporary period of relative stability, rising incomes and decreasing poverty in the post-WWII U.S. up to the mid-1970s, were the result of powerful left-led labor and social movements. This more egalitarian period was an aberration. The failure of the left and labor to make more systemic changes opened the way for capital to weaken unions, role back our already thin social safety net, and drag us into a new age of austerity.