Piketty wouldn’t raise taxes on income, which thriving professionals have a lot of; he would tax investment capital, which they don’t have enough of.
— David Brooks, The Piketty Phenomenon, New York Times, today
Alexandra Petri has a trademark-funny piece today in the Washington Post that she promises tells you “[e]verything you need to know about Capital — the hot summer beach read.” She goes on to say that although many people will buy the 700-page book, and that many already have–Amazon is out of stock!–not many of those people will actually read it. And that most of those lucky enough to already have a copy, have not read much, if any, of it yet.
So I’m wondering: Which category is David Brooks in? As a NYT columnist he probably had access to an advance copy before the book’s English-translation release. But since his claim that Piketty wouldn’t raise taxes on income sounds suspect to me–you can figure out from that comment which category I’m in–I wonder whether, rather than read the book, Brooks just Megan McCardle’s Bloomberg View op-ed three days ago, which Petri links to, and which reads as a rough draft of Brooks’s article.
McCardle, as Petri points out, says she has not read the book. She also says:
What hasn’t improved [since the 1970s in America] is the sense that you can plan for a decent life filled with love and joy and friendship, then send your children on to a life at least as secure and well-provisioned as your own.
How much of that could be fixed by Piketty’s proposal to tax away some huge fraction of national income from rich people? Some, to be sure. But writing checks to the bottom 70 percent would not fix the social breakdown among those without a college diploma — the pattern of marital breakdown showed up early, and strong, among welfare mothers.
Maybe not. So how about writing checks to, say, the University of Michigan, which back in the not-that distant past, when it received roughly 80% of its funding from the state, and large research grants from the federal government, had a student body that consisted of something slightly less than 125% that were from upscale households within the state or from Manhattan and Connecticut? How about writing checks to the Detroit Public School system, or the Lansing Public School system, of the Kalamazoo Public School system, to hire teachers who have excellent credentials and pay them well? How about writing checks for excellent mass transit systems between rural areas, inner cities, and thriving university and research towns like Ann Arbor?
Or how about writing checks for tutors and test-prep classes and informal community learning centers for children and adults? Or for paid apprenticeships and internships?
You get the picture. But Brooks does not. He writes, not for the first time, about the appalling gap between the advantages that the children of educated professionals have and the children of working class parents. He’s spot-on on that. But does Piketty really say that taxes on non-capital “income” of the elite should not be raised? And can Brooks explain why income from capital should be taxed at a lower rate than income from labor? In typical Brooks fashion, he doesn’t even acknowledge that it currently is.
Piketty is French. He is neither an American citizen nor an American resident. He has spent all but (from what I can tell) about five years of his life in France. His Ph.D. is from the London School of Economics, and his first teaching job was at MIT; he taught there for two years, 1993-1995. If he doesn’t expressly recommend a higher tax rate on upscale American salaries and bonuses, might that be because it is only here in the United States where top corporate executes receive such huge compensation and where certain professionals are paid disproportionately well vis-a-vis those lower on the socioeconomic scale? Piketty’s wealth-tax proposals are not narrowly prescriptive to the United States.
Ultimately, of course, it’s the specifics of Piketty’s research, not his policy suggestions, that make the book the phenomenon that it is. But I suspect that Brooks if wrong when he says that Piketty thinks taxes should not be raised on income of high earners in the United States. I’ll have to rely on someone who’s read the book to correct me if I’m wrong. I wish Paul Krugman read Angry Bear.
UPDATE: As Bruce Webb and Dan Crawford pointedly pointed out in the Comments, there are in fact strong forensic indications (I’m paraphrasing here) that Krugman does read AB.
Paul Krugman DOES read Angry Bear. For God’s Sake he cited me once and has referenced other Front Pagers as well.
AB consistently shows up in lists of top 20 most influential politico-economic blogs. that not so many of those top opinion makers take the time to stay and comment is not surprising. …
Usually AB is cited 3-4 times by PK each year.
Actually, I knew that. I replied:
OK, OK, OKayyyy. Yiiikes. Can’t you guys take a joke?!
It’s no fair, though, cuz he’s never, ever cited ME. And until he does, it’s not official that he reads AB!
Unrequited love is so painful.
It is, Paul. It is.
[Italics added; you can’t italicize in the Comments.]