Political Diary

Thomas Piketty, Optimist



Returning to the economist Thomas Piketty’s blog entry for 30th June, 2016, in Le Monde, he begins thus:

❝ Let’s be honest: until dawn on 24 June 2016 nobody really believed that the British were going to vote for Brexit. Now that the disaster has struck, it is tempting to feel discouraged and to abandon any dream of a democratic and progressive re-foundation of Europe. However, we must persevere and live in hope, for we have no other choice: the rise of national self-seeking and xenophobia in Europe leads straight to disaster.❞ [The Europeans’ italics].

And then:

❝ […] there is something profoundly nihilist and irrational in this attitude of reverting to xenophobia, […]❞

Although Piketty goes on to lambaste the European elites for their clownish bungling, and EU institutions for their preposterous structural faults, he by no means excuses the British working class for its “pathological response” to a “very real sense of abandonment”. (Curiously, the European Commission is the only major European institution to receive no mention in Piketty’s various proposals for structural reform).

From all of which, we confirm what we already knew: that Mr. Piketty is a progressive. Most of the progressivist lexicon has already been deployed in the first few paragraphs of the article. In particular, the cant-neologism xenophobia leaves a scent that leads infallibly to the camp of the progressives.

❝ The world exists in order to end up — pace Mallarmé, not as a book — but as an Integrated Supply Chain.❞

The view of the progressives on Brexit is the same as their view of human development on this planet in general: the world exists in order to end up— pace Mallarmé, not as a book — but as an Integrated Supply Chain. The only questions of any interest are those that seek out the tactics to be employed in the service of this single strategic goal. Piketty himself has argued at immense length elsewhere that this global capitalist goal has led ineluctably to an impolite disparity of wealth, to the extent that the world is now divided between a tiny Davos-class of economic, industrial, and political rentier-warlords on the one hand, and their billions of feudal vassals on the other. Self-interest can always be relied upon to ensure that nothing can stop this process from reaching the negative feedback point, at which the fleeced masses, so long kept under cultivation, can no longer provide sufficient demand to maintain the equilibrium. Result: a ghoulish kind of crop-failure.

❝ Without borders, there can be no democracy and therefore no resistance.❞

This progressivist view of the world has at least the merit of simplicity. It is in principle easy to imagine what is after all merely a system: a goal-seeking programme, in which the goal in question is a sustainable economic equilibrium that balances the immense wealth and power of an infinitesimal minority, with the poverty, labour, consumption and indigence of the global masses. That is all, except for one thing. The stubborn resistance of perhaps fully half of all British, European and American voters to the free movement of people, constitutes an intolerable barrier to driving this idolized equilibrium to its logical conclusion and most stable position. Global equilibrium with national borders can be only an interim achievement, a disappointment, an abortion; while all the while a final equilibrium with no national borders hovers in the capitalist imagination. It is unthinkable that louche, effete Western democracies should be allowed to frustrate the manifest economic destiny of the world. Without borders, there can be no democracy and therefore no resistance.

❝ There is an optimum and ultimate position where capitalist wealth can be permanently balanced against bread and circuses.❞

Here at least is an explanation of why the Davos-class has at last located its humanitarian heart, why it speaks endlessly of ❛values❜ — honesty not being one of them; and why with an uncanny unanimity it welcomes unlimited numbers of migrants to Europe in a gesture of open-ended generosity. That is to say, the generosity entirely of others. That the migrant-clientele are already becoming the moral masters, and a few of them the violent enemies of their hosts, is of absolutely no importance in the great game of finding that optimum and ultimate position where capitalist wealth can be permanently balanced against bread and circuses.

If this argument holds water, it must follow that the progressivist view of the world is inhumane, dishonest, immoral, and ultimately nihilist. It stares down on the world with the coldest gaze that can be imagined. It is uncaring and unforgiving, the Nemesis of civilization and culture, in a word, of Mankind — which are the domains of the conservative passions. It “has become death, the shatterer of worlds“.

Shattered worlds can already be seen on the erased terrain of the Middle East, as also in the “territories lost to the Republic”: the no-go areas amongst the French quartiers sensibles. They can be seen within the sound of Bow bells, in the market towns of East Anglia, and in all of the great conurbations of western Europe. They register in the scale of delinquency, violence, and political clientelism, particularly in France — the greatest of all the European social laboratories. They show in the irredeemably pusillanimous legislation stacked up in what used to be democratic jurisdictions. Where it is unseen, is in the hearts and minds of ordinary, seemingly powerless Europeans. ◼︎