Piketty’s discussion of national income and domestic output reveals that these macroeconomic metrics can be extremely useful in quantifying colonialism and imperialism, and exposing the way in which colonial domination persists into the modern age.
Jamie is skeptical that industrialization could ever be easy:
Here’s why I don’t think the transition can ever be all that simple or easy. A massive proportion of society (i.e. rural types) discovers that their skills are no longer needed, and therefore no longer profitable (or, if you prefer, survivable upon). Thus, they must seek work where it is to be found–in the dank cities, the grubby slums, the famed satanic mills. The value of industrial labor plummets at first, as its supply massively outstrips demand, and most of the requisite forms of employment involve little skill, and perforce negligible wages. It’s the ultimate employer’s market. A period of privation, it seems to me, is inevitable.
I would agree that industrialization, historically, has always been a humanitarian disaster. But what I don’t agree with, is that this is some kind of iron law of development. We should recognize that industrialization has always taken place at the command of a small minority of elites; if the masses actually had a say in how industrialization should happen, the excesses we are so accustomed to hearing about today would probably not be an issue. Or in other words–the excesses of industrialization have less to do with economics, and more to do with power.
So! Here’s my first contribution, covering a portion of the introduction (yeah this book is gonna take a while). I’ll try to keep it concise and coherent; in addition, I’ll attempt to steer clear of any non-reading group analysis of the tome, lest my reactions prematurely take on the intellectual hues of others. I do have a sneaking feeling I’m less well-read on the relevant literature than plenty of other folks in the group; thus, it could be that my thoughts will have to make up in originality for what they lack in perspicacity. I look forward to hearing people’s thoughts, though goodness knows tackling the book itself is a sufficient assignment.
I’ll start here: moving from an agricultural to an industrial society always sucks. Always. Arjun points out that this logic is often used to wave away horrendous human rights abuses. This well may be, but I do not attempt to do so here, and I don’t have to–the following point remains, even if one allows for the fact that certain excesses (the definition of which is subject to varying interpretations obviously) are by no means inevitable.
I haven’t been able to start the book itself yet—damn you, quarter system!—but I heard this piece on NPR yesterday and thought it served as a great primer for contextualizing Piketty in the larger economics canon, and with regard to Marx in particular.
The introduction to “Capital in the 21st Century” does not (as is typical with introductions) have much material for in-depth reflections or responses. However, there are some things to be said about his brief overview of the relevance of two prominent historical figures of political economy: Karl Marx and Simon Kuznets.