O número de resenhas e artigos dedicados à tradução inglesa de Capital no Século XXI do economista francês Thomas Piketty crescem dia a dia. Em um ensaio para o periódico Boston Review, Mike Konczal compilou algumas dessas resenhas de acordo com o espectro ideológico de seu autor. Para os críticos à direita, a obra falharia ao não modelar (e consequentemente recomendar) um nível ótimo de desigualdade para o bom funcionamento da sociedade. Já para os críticos de esquerda, além de excessivamente formalizado, os argumentos de Piketty sobre o crescimento constante da desigualdade - caso verdadeiros - tornariam inúteis reformas pontuais nos mercados de trabalho e financeiro. Contra a tendência reformista dos debates recentes sobre igualdade, a única solução seria justamente a saída marxista: retomar o capital acumulado por agentes privados. O artigo vale a leitura pelo modo claro e direto que apresenta os argumentos de Piketty.
And here I think this book signals a major change in the debate over inequality.
First, the rosy picture that economists have painted about the nature of inequality has been displaced. The idea that labor’s share of the economy is more or less fixed, an essential element of the mantra that a rising tide lifts all boats, has been dealt a serious, if not fatal, blow.
The idea that the inequality is necessary for a well-functioning society has also been thrown into question. In the wake of the financial crisis and Great Recession, more and more research institutions are finding that higher equality corresponds to better growth, or at least has no negative effect. The causation here might be difficult to prove, but the research suggests that we can no longer take for granted that that growing inequality is a necessary evil for a better economy.
Second, the debate over wealth and taxes is back. Many economists argue that capital income shouldn’t be taxed at all, since it is unfair to tax people because they happen to save, as if it is simply a choice in the marketplace. There are, however, significant advantages to owning wealth, including security, political power, the ability to direct private investment, and much more. These benefits need to be subject to democratic scrutiny.
Tax policy needs to go beyond raising revenues. Capital argues that high taxes can direct income towards more productive and less economically harmful uses, such as keeping incomes within in a firm rather than enriching super-managers; or inheritance taxes can help direct large fortunes toward use for the public good. In Piketty’s analysis, the decline of high marginal tax rates are the main culprit in the large growth of inequality internationally since the 1980s. Since this major transfer of resources didn’t cause an increase in economic productivity, the cost of undoing it will be minimal for the economy as a whole.