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Capital and Ideology
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Learn the key ideas of the book by Thomas Piketty

Capital and Ideology

Understanding the threats of an economy with no rules

Meritocracy is one of the great myths of our age, which is based on blind faith in private property as the route to emancipation. According to Thomas Piketty, this belief is a major source of inequality in today's society, maintaining that while it may carry with it a grain of truth, it has also created self-perpetuating injustice. The solution? Experimenting with new forms of political participation, while making sure that entrepreneurship, universal education and the redistribution of income are all given equal importance.

Capital and Ideology
Read in 17 min.
Listen in 21 min.

Inequality is always justified by a dominant ideology, by a precise worldview

Inequality is a popular subject of debate in many different settings, and despite an ongoing commitment to eradicate it (made by some, but not by everyone), society is still significantly unequal.

Utopia may well be unattainable, but over the years, there have been many societies in which the gap in well-being, rights and opportunities was not only huge, but was even facilitated. Ideologies are usually used to justify certain dynamics, and these ideologies then become common narratives, and eventually very specific “political” choices.

Thomas Piketty’s work focuses on this very intersection – the relationship between ideology and inequality – and his analysis has led to the conclusion that the main triggering factors for inequality are blind faith in boundaries and private property. Regimes in which inequality reigns always exhibit these common characteristics, even though they are structured in many, many different ways.

The author's studies are based on specific data on incomes, censuses, and the main methods used in socio-economic theories. The starting point is set with trifunctional societies (the oldest non-egalitarian organisations that can provide valid data), moving on to the more modern proprietary societies and the impact of their colonial policies on the rest of the world. Subsequently, the author identifies a turning point whose historical impacts have not yet been fully understood or yet resolved, which began in the period of the early 1900s, during the world wars. Finally, moving on through the golden age of the mid-twentieth century, (an age in which people were generally happy), we reach the present day and its contradictions, a period that foresees dark times but which vociferously requires us to imagine a new future of redemption. Meanwhile, the times in history when we have seen a real, genuine struggle for equality and education have been those in which progress has accelerated, improving conditions and life expectancies.

The developments of countries such as France or the United States throughout history are used in the book as a model of macro-dynamics, due to cultural proximity and the impact of the West over centuries of colonialism. Nonetheless, there are many case studies exemplifying this dynamic all over the world, from India to China, from Russia to Brazil, and equally, identifying whole swathes of populations with no representation in any statutory political organisations.


The key ideas of "Capital and Ideology"

Inequality is always justified by a dominant ideology, by a precise worldview
The trifunctional societies of the mediaeval era show social disparities that still exercise strong influence today
Colonialism and slave societies are the ultimate form of inequality
From the negative effects of the French Revolution to the burgeoning post-war period of the 1900s: a positive parable for Western nation-states
By the end of the 1900’s, people were resigned to the unfeasibility of overcoming regimes in which inequality reigned supreme
The new millennium and hyper capitalism. The challenges of modern society
Overcoming the concept of public debt and experimenting with new forms of ownership are two possible tools for a more just future.
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