Have you read Piketty? Well, he has not read Marx

I said that I was not going to do another post on Thomas Piketty and his book Capital in the 21st century (see my previous posts).  But I could not resist this.

There has been a bit of a campaign against criticisms of Piketty’s book by some leftists, who argue that Marxist critics in particular have not read Piketty’s book and they should be less critical and more positive.  Well, I have read it, but it seems that Piketty has not read Marx, although he slams Marx’s explanation of capitalism at various points throughout his book.

Here is an interview with Piketty in New Republic magazine.

IC: Can you talk a little bit about the effect of Marx on your thinking and how you came to start reading him?
TP: Marx?
IC: Yeah.
TP: I never managed really to read it. I mean I don’t know if you’ve tried to read it. Have you tried?
IC: Some of his essays, but not the economics work.
TP: The Communist Manifesto of 1848 is a short and strong piece. Das Kapital, I think, is very difficult to read and for me it was not very influential.
IC: Because your book, obviously with the title, it seemed like you were tipping your hat to him in some ways.
TP: No not at all, not at all! The big difference is that my book is a book about the history of capital. In the books of Marx there’s no data.

Interview in New Republic magazine

18 thoughts on “Have you read Piketty? Well, he has not read Marx

  1. Brilliant! It’s obvious, and amazing, that a professor of economics hasn’t read Capital. A couple of years ago Paul Krugman made a throw away comment linking ‘Das Kapital’ and Mein Kampf. I thought then that anyone who had read Capital would know it was a deeply compassionate work and would never make that link. Tragic really.

    1. You are kidding right? Did Krugman really compare Capital with Mein Kampf? What’s wrong with all these people?

  2. Makes Heinrich (and people like Doug Henwood) look like paragons of scholarly probity.
    When I was at college my gang talked quite a bit with a US exchange student (may have been a Rhodes scholar, or something like that). I asked if he’d read Capital and he said yes. Ever since, I’ve wondered about what can be stuffed into the sense of “read”. Piketty shows us one way of doing it.

    1. We read some short excerpts and longer criticisms, that US elite education – basically Cliff’s Notes with a surly professor.

  3. A little gem, Michael, thanks for sharing! Piketty is as Piketty does – or, it seems, doesn’t do (because he finds it too difficult) in this case. What price credibility? And so, once again, it is the cute anti-materialists scrabbling about for a new ‘idea’ to beat Marx with, who have seized on Thomas Piketty’s latest opus to try spread their confusion. He has not, of course, let them down, but it’s they, in their unseemly haste to discredit the materialist dialectic approach, who seem to have tripped themselves up yet again. They offer one more flavour of the month which will inevitably, turn sour for them.

  4. The way he puts it, makes me wonder about the cognitive abilities of vulgar economists. I expected more from him.

  5. Michael, does his not reading Marx better explain his conclusions? He’s compiled all this data to prove that with the right tweeks capitalism can be saved from itself? Guess u don’t need to understand Marx to disprove him.

  6. What an idiot.
    I read some really good reviews by now, one by Galbraith and one by Michel Husson and of course here by Michael.
    These reviewers did a good job, but they did not mention the problems in the empirical work. Piketty claims that his method is innovative and that it leads to new results – his method may be innovative or not, I do not know, but it is does not lead to new results and the results are not better. I am certain that Piketty over-estimates inequality. It’s perhaps not that serious – the basic trend is obvious enough. But that’s not an excuse for using a method leading to inaccurate measures. For an explanation, see Burkheimer, 2012. It’s a bit technical and Burkheimer is a conservative economist, but he is right.

  7. Another quote from Picketty:

    “IC: Because your book, obviously with the title, it seemed like you were tipping your hat to him in some ways.

    TP: No not at all, not at all! The big difference is that my book is a book about the history of capital. In the books of Marx ****there’s no data.*****”

    I cannot even comment that!!!!

  8. Having partly read Piketty’s book I could tell he either hadn’t read Marx or was out to distort him!

    Peculiar that he should constantly reference someone he hasn’t bothered to read, considering his influence on academia.

    i think Rick Wolff strikes the right balance in discussing Piketty.

  9. LOL, Piketty complains that in Marx’s Capital, “there’s no data”!

    Apparently Piketty requires schooling in the concept, “abstract analysis”.

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