On Sept. 12, the Duke Center for International Development hosted a panel discussion of French economist Thomas Piketty’s book “Capital in the Twenty-first Century.” 89 people attended to hear what professors William Darity Jr., Robert Korstad, Mac McCorkle and Phyllis Pomerantz of the Sanford School of Public Policy had to say about Piketty’s controversial book on wealth inequality.
“It deserves its economic accolades,” said McCorkle, Associate Professor of Public Policy with expertise in political analysis, philosophy and theory, “but I question whether it’s a good political book.”
Many economists consider Piketty’s “Capital in the Twenty-first Century” a game-changer in the field of economics and the panelists agree that Piketty’s book has catalyzed conversations about issues we should be talking about.
McCorkle stated that he can admire the simplicity in which Piketty approaches certain topics. “His reconstruction of wealth in an industrial society is amazing,” he said. “as is his way of talking about the 1% in a way that is understandable, real and researchable. “
Korstad, a Professor of Public Policy and History with expertise in economic inequality and poverty, concedes that Piketty gets to the heart of certain issues. “Piketty argues that distribution not efficiency is at the heart of economic analysis,” he said, “the most important thing is the relationship power of labor and work, which is at the heart of the constraints on capital.”
The panelists also offered some criticism on “Capital in the Twenty-first Century” Darity, a Samuel DuBois Cook Professor of Public Policy with expertise in economic inequality and poverty and race/ethnicity, critiqued Piketty’s claim that the United States is exceptional in having race issues and inequality because of slavery. “This issue is not uniquely American and Piketty fails to examine general equality,” he said.
McCorkle also critiqued Piketty’s bleak tone: “Piketty has grim, gruesome view of things,” he said, “he knocks down hope.” Pomerantz, Professor of Public Policy with expertise in international development and poverty, offered an opposing view. “I am not too disturbed about Piketty’s tone,” she says “It brings up a lot of things we see in practice.”
Pomerantz also asked the panelists and audience to consider which is more important to think about, inequality or poverty? “The topic of inequality is highly political,” she says, “There are some people who will say that there is nothing wrong with inequality.”