In his blog entitled “Picketty in Brief,” dated Sunday, July 24, 2022, N. Gregory Mankiw asks what might be Thomas Picketty’s present thinking about inequality. Has it changed? If so, how and why? Also see on this website “Picketty’s Plight.” in which we quote Philip McShane’s claim that, unless one has a normative explanatory theory yielding precepts as to how enlightened participants in the economic process should adapt and conduct themselves, one can only helplessly and hopelessly suggest harmful bureaucratic centralist solutions – such as disequilibrating taxation and intrinsically–inflationary deficit spending.
A rigidly egalitarian system belongs to a perfectly egalitarian world; (but) a world in which men are, in fact, unequal must find a different system. What system? If the idealism is sentiment without intelligence, it is as likely as not to mate with the underground cynicism of the revolutionaries to foist upon us a dictatorship of the proletariat in which the proletariat does not dictate, a dictatorship of the Herrenvolk in which the Volk obeys the Fuhrer. But if that idealism can be brought too learn the discipline of logic and of scientific reflection, then it will impose a generalization of the exchange economy. To determine the nature of such a generalization is the aim of this inquiry; but at once this is at least evident. The vast forces of human benevolence can no longer be left to tumble down the Niagara of fine sentiments and noble dreams. They have to be assigned a function and harnessed within the exchange system, for in no other way can that system shake off its fictitious fetters to move consistently towards its maximum. [CWL 21, 36]
As healing can have no truck with hatred, so too it can have no truck with materialism. For the healer is essentially a reformer; first and foremost he counts on what is best in man. But the materialist is condemned by his own principles to be no more that a manipulator. He will apply to human beings the stick-and-carrot treatment that the Harvard behaviorist B.F. Skinner advocates under the name reinforcement. He will maintain with Marx that cultural attitudes are the byproduct of material conditions, and so he will bestow upon those subjected to communist power the salutary conditions of a closed frontier, clear and firm indoctrination, controlled media of information, a vigilant secret police, and the terrifying threat of labor camps. [CWL 15, 104]
The excellence of the exchange solution becomes even more evident when contrasted with the defects of a bureaucratic solution. The bureaucrat … (gives the people) what he thinks is good for them, and he gives it in the measure he finds possible or convenient; nor can he do other wise, for the brains of a bureaucrat are not equal to the task of thinking of everything; only the brains of all men together can even approximate to that. … when a limited liability company has served its day, it goes to bankruptcy court; but when bureaucrats take over power, they intend to stay. … when the pressure of terrorism is needed to oil the wheels of enterprise, then the immediate effect is either an explosion or else servile degeneracy. … the exchange solution is a dynamic equilibrium resting on the equilibria of markets. … every product of the exchange economy must mate through exchange with some other product, and the ratio in which the two mate is the exchange value. The generality of this equilibrium makes it indifferent to endless complexity and endless change; for it stands on a level above all particular products and all particular modes of production. While these multiply and vary indefinitely, the general equilibrium of the exchange process continues to answer with precision the complex question, Who, among millions of persons, does what, among millions of tasks, in return for which, among millions of rewards? Nor is the dynamic solution unaccompanied by a continuous stimulus to better efforts and more delicate ingenuity. For the uniformity of prices means that the least efficient of those actually producing will at least subsist, while every step above the minimum efficiency yields a proportionately greater return. CWL 21, 34-35)