Thomas Piketty, whose new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century is enjoying maximum exposure across the globe at the moment, is being described in much of the mainstream media as a Marxist or an 'anti-capitalist' (the headline below is from the recent Mayday edition of the London Evening Standard). Not only does this description mischaracterize Piketty's arguments, it also traduces Marxism. Piketty is not a Marxist and has no interest in ending the exploitation and alienation of capitalism; he is a liberal concerned with economic inequality who proposes higher rates of taxation for the wealthy - an entirely respectable and mainstream position. He even told a New York Times interviewer that 'private property and market institutions' are necessary for 'economic efficiency and personal freedom' - a conviction he seems to have acquired during a visit to Romania in the immediate post-Soviet era. Given that such facts are easily discoverable and quite widely known, one can only marvel at the journalistic disingenuity on display here.
The book itself, meanwhile, rebukes Marxist economic analysis for its supposedly mistaken reliance on the theory of the falling rate of profit ('an historical prediction that has turned out to be quite wrong', he claims, quite wrongly). The book also articulates a fairly mainstream centre-left politics, arguing, for example, that inequality is a threat to 'democratic societies' and the 'values of social justice on which they are based' (a question for Piketty here: if 'democratic societies' really are based on 'values of social justice', why do they systematically generate the kind of inequality Piketty documents?). None of this is to say that the book is worthless; but it is hardly 'anti-capitalist'. And so to avoid further confusion, here is a short list of some other world historical figures who are not enemies of the profit system: Barack Obama, Tony Benn and Kim Kardashian. You're welcome.