Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Thomas Piketty

Beware Arrogant Candidates Who Can’t Win But Will Split the Vote

As I look at the 2020 Democratic primary field, I’m reminded of the 2017 French presidential election. Do you remember? In the first round, the Left Party’s candidate, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, got 19.6% of the vote, failing to secure the 21.3% he needed to beat Marine Le Pen and advance to the second round. Mélenchon just narrowly missed the boat because he didn’t command the whole left block. 6.4% of French voters instead picked the Socialist Party’s candidate, Benoît Hamon. A further 1.7% of French voters chose the candidates of the Communist Union or New Anticapitalist Party. The left could have commanded as much as 27.7%. It only needed about a fifth of these additional left-leaning voters to slip past Le Pen. But these left wing candidates refused to drop out of the race, and the result was a depressing second round, in which the only alternative to France’s status quo was right nationalism. So when I look at the Democratic Party’s field, I ask myself–who is the Mélenchon, and who are the Hamons?

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Bernie Sanders: What the Economists are Fighting About

Economists have gotten into a big fight with each other about the potential economic impacts of Bernie Sanders’ proposals. First Gerald Friedman came out with a new paper anticipating a tremendous improvement in economic performance under Sanders. Then four economists (Krueger, Goolsbee, Romer, and Tyson) affiliated with the Obama and Clinton administrations wrote a joint letter asserting that Friedman’s claims “cannot be supported by the economic evidence”. Paul Krugman subsequently took their side on his popular blog. Others have defended Friedman–Jamie Galbraith accuses the four of not having rigorously reviewed the paper, while Dean Baker claims that the New York Times is not giving Sanders’ side a platform and that there’s far more support among economists than we are being led to believe. In the popular press, this argument has rapidly devolved into a question of which authorities are more or less credible. I want to give you something better–a readable analysis of the actual arguments at stake here.

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How Austerity Destroyed the British Empire

It’s rarely talked about during Britain’s contemporary debate over austerity, but British austerity has a major 19th century precedent, one that ultimately culminated in the decline and fall of the British Empire.

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Piketty is Right: The Germans Never Repaid Their Debts

I recently read a fantastic exchange between the German newspaper Die Zeit and French economist Thomas Piketty. Here is the original in German–there is an English translation by Gavin Schalliol, but at the time of writing Zeit is disputing Schalliol’s right to publish it. Fortunately, copies of the English translation have shared elsewhere on the web. In the exchange, Piketty makes a point that is seldom made–Germany itself is a direct beneficiary of the debt forgiveness and currency devaluation policies Keynesian economists are recommending for Greece.

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Thomas Piketty is Not a Marxist

I subscribe to a weekly news magazine called The Week. It’s an excellent magazine highlighting the various things commentators have been saying in the popular press over the past week. In the most recent issue, however, I saw something strange. In the banner, there was a picture of Karl Marx, and the question “Is Marxism Back in Fashion?” This struck me as quite bizarre–I hadn’t seen any mention of Marx or Marxism in the last week. I turned to the relevant article and discovered that the controversy being highlighted was over Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Many commentators, particularly those writing in right-leaning publications, were referring to Piketty and his work as Marxist (for an example, see Kyle Smith’s piece in the New York Post) This apparently is so uncontroversial that The Week felt comfortable guiding people to the story with a Marx reference. I found this extremely troubling, both because Piketty is most certainly not a Marxist and because the practice of calling all those with radical left-wing views “Marxist” is an attempt to straw man those leftists and prevent people from thinking seriously about their views. I’d like to elaborate on both themes today.

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