Piketty Book on Inequality Bad News for Clinton

A book by a French economist on income inequality has become a pop sensation among Democratic liberal elites. Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” initially released in France, has an English translation, which has received rave reviews from pundits like Paul Krugman of The New York Times.


It is also the latest reason to believe that Hillary Clinton will not be the Democratic presidential nominee in 2016.

The author assembled massive amounts of historical data to claim that ever-growing income inequality is inevitable without massive government intervention. The threat, as Piketty sees it, is more than economic; it’s poised to undermine democracy itself. In short, it’s a book that liberal elites have been waiting for with baited breath.

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The book relies heavily on selective use of data. Scott Winship of the Manhattan Institute and others have done a good job highlighting this weakness. To take just one example, while Piketty cites data showing income has dropped for the bottom 90 percent of Americans since 1979, the Census Bureau and others show the opposite.

What’s truly fascinating about the reception of Piketty’s book, however, are the political implications.

Piketty wants a global tax on wealth so people won’t be able to move to places with lower tax rates. The fact that Democratic policy elites can embrace a book with such a proposal indicates that intellectually the party has moved far to the left.

Piketty also says that, theoretically, “there is no reason a country cannot decide to devote two-thirds or three-quarters of its national income to taxes.” Clearly, this is a man who’s never had to pitch higher taxes to voters.

He says that this level of taxation would be acceptable if the money was used “for purposes everyone agrees are of high importance.” What are those purposes? Piketty suggests, “education, health, culture, clean energy, and sustainable development.” Just about everyone agrees on the importance of education and health, of course, but there are massive disagreements on how to improve them. Promoting the use of tax dollars to support “culture, clean energy, and sustainable development” is also more than a little challenging in the political arena. Wow.

These are the attitudes of Democrats who believe President Barack Obama has not been liberal enough. They don’t want to fix the president’s health care law, but want to replace it with a single-payer system. Like Piketty, they are disappointed that the 2008 economic crash didn’t lead to an even bigger role for the government in managing the economy. People with such attitudes see former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as even more “conservative” than the “centrist” Obama.

As a result, the public embrace of Piketty’s book by leading liberal voices creates one more reason to believe that Clinton will not be the party’s presidential nominee in 2016. The party is leaving her behind as it becomes more liberal. Additionally, the views expressed in Piketty’s book are a repudiation of former President Bill Clinton’s tenure in the White House. He rescued the Democrats from similar elitist attitudes a generation ago by adopting a more centrist approach.

If the party wants to revert to its pre-Clinton ways, Hillary Clinton will not be the messenger.

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