“Make globalisation fairer”

an interview with Thomas Piketty

A story goes around the world (Issue III/2020)


Thomas Picketty. Photo: Vincent Muller/Opale/Leemage/laif

Mr Piketty, in response to the pandemic, many people are talking about the end of globalisation. Industries that have been outsourced to distant countries are to be brought back to Europe, for example. Do you believe that our economic system will change?

It is still too early to say. Powerful forces will push for a return to the status quo, for a return to business as usual. The nationalist right will try to use the crisis to its own advantage to return to nation-state borders and to tighten national and ethno-religious identities. The question is whether, with the help of an alternative discourse a different, a fairer development model can be designed to establish a new transnational cooperation. I try to promote these approaches through the ideas of “participative socialism” and “social federalism”.

Will we see a paradigm shift towards more social justice?

I believe that new solutions are being sought in Europe and worldwide and that there can be a very rapid paradigm change, as has often happened in history. But at this stage everything still remains very open.

Can Europe succeed in emerging from this crisis united and demonstrating solidarity both inside and outside the EU?

This would require a change to the unanimity principle, which prevents the adoption of a common budget and a fair tax system in Europe. We should start with a small number of countries, for example by giving real powers to the Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly, which will be set up in 2019. There is not so much talk about it, at least not in France, but it is an interesting thing. The problem is that the Assembly only has an advisory function. It should be responsible for approving a common tax system for France and Germany.

Is your current book "Capital and Ideology" an appeal for a trans-national movement against the established elites? A global yellow-vest movement - is that your dream?

To be honest, I was very sad about the yellow vest movement. I could understand that they were furious about the increase of the gasoline tax. But in the end I realised that many nationalist demonstrators were on the streets and that internationalism was not the main characteristic of the movement. We will have to do a lot to give the international movement a social colour. The great challenge today is to reconcile globalisation with redistribution and economic justice. We must make it possible, but it will be very difficult.

What are the main challenges?

We are starting out from a situation in which the socially vulnerable groups feel that they are being mistreated by globalisation and European integration. Only the upper classes support European integration. It is an illusion to believe that you simply have to be better at explaining what you do. Moreover, to claim that poor people are nationalistic is cynical and wrong. We cannot continue with purely economic or trade agreements. We need ambitious contracts that include social, environmental objectives. Technically, this is not complicated. We have only taken a different path since the 1980s and 1990s. We must change that.

You propose a better distribution of power within companies and temporary capital ownership through a highly progressive taxation of large assets. Do you want to abolish all individuality?

It's not about abolishing diversity. It's about allowing diversity to flourish. In other words, everyone should have access to basic goods, starting with education. Generally speaking, I mean participation, i.e. co-determination and the broadest possible participation in the various forms of social, cultural, economic and political life. We have forgotten that human progress was possible in the 20th century because property was desacralised. Today we have a sacralisation of property and wealth accumulation. But in practice, wealth accumulation is always a collective process. Our greatest enemy is lacking of knowledge and forgetting.

Capital and Ideology. By Thomas Piketty. Harvard University Press, 2020.

The interview was conducted by Cécile Calla
Translation by Jess Smee

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