The tightening of the screw

Europe is currently undergoing a tightening of the screw. As most of you will have learnt from either Milton Friedman or Naomi Klein or both, crises (e.g. the 2008 financial crisis, Covid, the war in Ukraine, etc.) will be inexorably exploited by the powers-that-be. Result: the poor will become poorer, the rich richer. This is inevitable unless a concerted effort is made to change the tide, as was the case after the series of cataclysmic events constituted by WWI, the Spanish flue, the Great Depression and WWII.

I would urge you to read Thomas Piketty’s book “Capitalism and Ideology”, which is basically a history book. If you you do read it, you will probably find that it is one of the most important books you have ever worked your way through, because it answers a great many questions you may have asked yourself and many more that you probably never even thought to ask.

True, it’s a very large book, and most people don’t have time to read hundreds of pages. More’s the pity, because the author writes well, clearly and often humorously, not so much about violent wars but about the contradictions that caused them.

For those of you who want to take a shortcut, I have good news. Yes, I believe the man must care very deeply about the plight of our planet and the creatures, including humans, upon it, because a 156-page document called “Extracts” is freely available on his website. It’s the first item on the list:

The list also includes all the statistical graphs used in his book, and finally a link to the equivalent page in French.

I was initially only interested in the fluctuations of inequality in the 20th and 21st centuries. Only reluctantly did I go back to read, with rapidly growing fascination, what he had written about the previous periods of human history, because it all turns out to be interrelated.

Still, since I live here — in Europe — and now, I find that developments since the 1980s in Europe and the USA are frightening. Here are a few examples where Thomas Piketty’s graphs speak for themselves:

Inequality 1900–2020

Labour productivity : Europe vs United States

Growth and progressive taxation in the U.S. 1870-2020

There is something uncanny about the years 1980 to 1995, isn’t there. For most of us, the leitmotif was that everything started getting a little worse at about that time. To begin with, just a little, and hardly anybody noticed. But we’re noticing now!

Piketty also writes extensively about other countries, such as India, China and Iran. You’d be surprised by what he and his colleagues have uncovered, very surprised, in fact.

Piketty writes that he is an optimist. “We”, that is not only the Western countries but also countries like India Japan and Iran, were able to turn things around after WWII, dramatically reducing inequality and improving the welfare of lower and middle class people. I believe he is trying to convince us that “we” can do it again.