Right Scrambles over Red-Hot Indictment of Inequality and Capitalism

As a book by French economist Thomas Piketty has soared to the top of U.S. best seller lists and the public discourse surrounding inequality has popularized the once rare term “oligarchy” in recent weeks, the American rightwing appears flabbergasted about how to respond to the seemingly red-hot rise of the idea that modern capitalism has become a failure by creating a permanent ultra-rich ruling class to the detriment of the overall economy and everyone else.

In his column in Friday’s New York Times, calling it the “Piketty Panic” now occurring among Republicans and Conservatives, Paul Krugman says that what’s most interesting about the national conversation sparked by Piketty “is that the right seems unable to mount any kind of substantive counterattack” to the book’s central thesis — one that utterly destroys the core arguments long made by the nation’s neoliberals and the financial elite.

“People are yearning for an explanation of the dire economic straits in which they find themselves. Piketty’s highly readable style, innovative mind, and breadth of knowledge have made him the ideal candidate to meet this need.” —Richard Eskow

Using James Pethokoukis of the rightwing American Enterprise Institute as just one example, Krugman says his rhetoric proves the Conservatives are scrambling. Pethokoukis, in an op-ed in The National Review, said Piketty’s book must be refuted, otherwise its ideas “will spread among the clerisy and reshape the political economic landscape on which all future policy battles will be waged.”

But for Krugman the refutations so far amount to little more than familiar tactics. He writes:

This week, Piketty’s book sits atop the best seller lists of, Barnes & Noble, and the New York Times (to name a few), something rather unheard of for a 700-plus page economic treatise draped in extensive data,  literary allusions, and scholarly research.

According to Richard Eskow, fellow at the Campaign for America’s Future, the high sales and unprecedented public attention drawn by the book say something remarkable about both its content and the current state of economic and political affairs in the U.S.

The surprising sales figure, Eskow writes, are profoundly important:

One of the key services of the book, says Eskow, is the promotion of the idea—backed by evidence—that “however bad you think inequality has become, it’s worse than that.”