Book review, By Paul Krugman, March 8, 2020 NYT

By Thomas Piketty

For Piketty, rising inequality is at root a political phenomenon. The social-democratic framework that made Western societies relatively equal for a couple of generations after World War II, he argues, was dismantled, not out of necessity, but because of the rise of a “neo-proprietarian” ideology. Indeed, this is a view shared by many, though not all, economists. These days, attributing inequality mainly to the ineluctable forces of technology and globalization is out of fashion, and there is much more emphasis on factors like the decline of unions, which has a lot to do with political decisions.

But why did policy take a hard-right turn? Piketty places much of the blame on center-left parties, which, as he notes, increasingly represent highly educated voters. These more and more elitist parties, he argues, lost interest in policies that helped the disadvantaged, and hence forfeited their support. And his clear implication is that social democracy can be revived by refocusing on populist economic policies, and winning back the working class.

Piketty could be right about this, but as far as I can tell, most political scientists would disagree.