Why Save the Bankers?: And Other Essays on Our Economic and Political Crisis

Why Save the Bankers?: And Other Essays on Our Economic and Political Crisis

Incisive commentary on the financial meltdown and its aftermath, from the author of the bestselling global phenomenon Capital in the Twenty-First Century

Thomas Piketty’s work has proved that unfettered markets lead to increasing inequality. Without meaningful regulation, capitalist economies will concentrate wealth in an ever smaller number of hands. Armed with this knowledge, democratic societies face a defining challenge: fending off a new aristocracy.

For years, Piketty has wrestled with this problem in his monthly newspaper column, which pierces the surface of current events to reveal the economic forces underneath. Why Save the Bankers? brings together selected columns, now translated and annotated, from the period book-ended by the September 2008 collapse of Lehman Brothers and the Paris attacks of November 2015. In between, writing from the vantage point of his native France, Piketty brilliantly decodes the European sovereign debt crisis, an urgent struggle against the tyranny of markets that bears lessons for the world at large. And along the way, he weighs in on oligarchy in the United States, wonders whether debts actually need to be paid back, and discovers surprising lessons about inequality by examining the career of Steve Jobs.

Coursing with insight and flashes of wit, these brief essays offer a view of recent history through the eyes of one of the most influential economic thinkers of our time.

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3 thoughts on “Why Save the Bankers?: And Other Essays on Our Economic and Political Crisis”

  1. Robert Moore says:
    5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    A collection of relatively minor columns by the author of the greatest book on economics of our age, March 5, 2016
    By 
    Robert Moore (Little Rock, AR USA) –
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    This review is from: Why Save the Bankers?: And Other Essays on Our Economic and Political Crisis (Hardcover)
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    I want to make two recommendations. First, if you have not read Thomas Piketty’s CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, read it before reading this book. Second, if you have read Piketty’s CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY, feel free to read this one, but ask yourself why you would want to. This book is filled with a column he writes in his native France. These are extremely topical pieces, reacting to events in the news, almost exclusively in Europe. I like to think that I’m a very literate person, someone who keeps up with the news, but I was quite unfamiliar with the context of a significant number of these. As you read a lot of the issue get repeated and you become oriented to names and events. And if you are aware of what Piketty’s positions on various issues are it is easy to figure out what the other participants positions are. For instance, if you are aware that Piketty finds, like most economics, economic austerity plans to be regressive, you can infer what the position is of those he accuses of stupidity on austerity. Even if the names are unfamiliar, the issues he articulates always make sense.

    However, this is very much in the way of second tier work. CAPITAL IN THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY is one of the most important works in economics of the past fifty years. It was also a huge best seller, which is astonishing given that it is a thick, academic work. Even given that Piketty writes exceptionally well – in fact, he writes so clearly and so gorgeously that it is almost impossible to believe he is French, so completely is he unlike whats we normally think of as French academic writing – no one could anticipate that a nearly 700 page in depth and exhaustive analysis of economic inequality could become one of the best selling economics books in decades. It is a book that sums up everything that we are likely to know about economic inequality and its affects on the economy in this generation. It is also a scathing indictment of free market capitalism, one that free market capitalists have been completely unable to answer. This is partly because it is so well argued, but even more because Piketty’s explanations make complete sense of the data, whereas apologists for free market capitalism have increasingly struggled to come up with new excuses for four decades of failure of free market ideas to bring the economy back to prosperity for those in the middle class. In other words, trickle down hasn’t occurred in forty years and pretty obviously is never going to occur. Piketty is a passionate egalitarian, a supporter of capitalism, but only if managed by the state. In the 1930s FDR proclaimed that America wasn’t better off unless all Americans were better off, whereas in the past forty years, since the ascendance of Thatcher and Reagan and their Neoliberal policies, the assumption has been that America is best off if the top 2% is better off, regardless of what happens to the rest of society.

    What makes Piketty’s book so powerful is not just that he identifies free market economic principles as the culprit in creating the economic inequality that defines our age, but that he rejects simplistic answers in suggesting ways to resolve it. For instance, he argues that a simple increase in taxes is not called for (except possibly in the United States, given that the tax base is so much lower than in other rich nations). He also has an extended and provocative recommendation that the rich nations consider moving away from an income tax to a tax on capital, which he believes would be both fairer and more effective. He also argues for a much more progressive tax system. While he does not advocate larger taxes, he does advocate the under-taxed wealthy paying a much, much higher percentage. After all, the inequality in wealth is a direct result of the wealthier members of the wealthy countries of the world paying such a small amount of their earnings in taxes. We have seen decade after decade of the wealthy members of society gamble on the notion of extremely high increases of the very wealthy will make everyone wealthy. All it has achieved is making the wealthy wealthier and wealthier.

    Piketty writes at length about the three main responsibilities of government to its citizens and the difficulties created by economic inequality: retirement, education, and healthcare. The range of information he has command of is thing short of astonishing. The same kind of command is at work in these essays, but without the explanatory framework. In short, the large work serves as a splendid introduction to these essays, but not vice versa.

    One way to think about these essays is to imagine a counterfactual. Imagine that Paul Krugman had summed up his life’s work in a best selling work, instead of a number of works that are read only by specialists in Economics Departments and first had it translated into French, to be followed later by a collection of his NY Times essays. This would be the…

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  2. Man in the Middle says:
    3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
    3.0 out of 5 stars
    The Great Recession in Europe, as viewed by a pundit who wished he’d been in charge., March 22, 2016
    By 
    Man in the Middle (Irvine, CA) –
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    This review is from: Why Save the Bankers?: And Other Essays on Our Economic and Political Crisis (Hardcover)
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    This turned out to be more about politics than economics. It reprints English versions of columns Piketty wrote for a French newspaper from 2008 through 2015, and reads like similar books by American political pundits from Krugman to Coulter – very sure they know the right thing for the government to do at every moment, unlike the fools actually elected to the task. The resulting book is long on opinion and short on proof. Facts are cited confidently, but without much evidence to support independent confirmation.

    If you think the solution to government incompetence is more government, and favor lots of deficit spending in hard times, you may like this book a lot. Piketty makes it very clear he wants a more powerful and more openly political single government for Europe, able to force national governments to toe the line and work together, without apparently realizing nations at war with each other within our lifetime might have a problem doing that.

    In particular, Piketty seems to have completely missed the issue of Mideastern immigration into Europe so dominating European news this year in even the most recent columns herein, even though that issue was all over European news by 2015, and extremely relevant to points he makes.

    Although I agree with Piketty that increased economic inequality between the very rich and everyone else is a huge problem, he appears not to recognize there are reasons the ultra rich escape every attempt to strangle them back in line. Apparently the rich there, as here, are happy to TALK about economic equality, so long as no one does anything effective about it. Somehow, every new law to bind them has an exception allowing their escape, which shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with the influence cash has on politicians. If there is a solution to this problem, Piketty hasn’t found it yet, and wishing is not a plan.

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  3. Anonymous says:
    4.0 out of 5 stars
    Largely focusing on Europe, a worthwhile but not “must read” anthology of Piketty columns from 2008 to 2015, April 19, 2016
    By 
    S. McGee
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    This review is from: Why Save the Bankers?: And Other Essays on Our Economic and Political Crisis (Hardcover)
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    This collection of short essays isn’t one to read if you’re in search of insight into the current state of affairs. The original collection was published a few years ago in France, and now has been updated and added to and translated into English for release in North America, but many of the key works in it date back to the aftermath of the U.S. financial crisis and the dawning of Europe’s own fiscal catastrophe in Ireland, Portugal, Spain and above all in Greece.

    That said, it’s still worth reading, if only to ponder what Piketty said about those events then and to compare some of his thoughts with what actually happened. For instance, in the title essay, he points out that FDR’s response to the previous Wall Street-triggered catastrophe was to confiscate the wealth of the country’s most affluent families by pushing income tax rates to as high as 91% on the top tier by 1941! It’s intriguing to ponder what might have happened had President Obama and Congress attempted to include a confiscatory tax rate on Wall Street execs along with trying to pass the Dodd-Frank Act… In “Poor as Jobs”, he takes aim at inherited wealth, and its role in widening the wealth gap, adroitly using the (very wealthy) late Steve Jobs as an example of someone at a relative disadvantage by NOT having inherited his money. “On Oligarchy in America” is one of the more recent additions that will be of particular interest in this election season, given that it addresses the question of private funding of election campaigns.

    A great number of these essays deal with the economic plight of Europe, and the more familiar a reader is with specific events in France, Germany and Greece (in particular) the more he or she will find this an interesting and informative read. Groups of essays are prefaced with descriptions of events to provide some context, but there are plenty of references to individuals, institutions, and occurrences that if you’re not reading, say, the Economist every week, you could well find yourself turning to Google for some background.

    A final word of note: If you’ve been living in the backwoods for the last few years, and are unaware that Piketty made his name by writing a book advocating a wealth tax, in order to avoid the world returning to the 19th century existence in which a tiny handful of ultra-affluent folks live off the labor of the struggling majority. His “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” became a blockbuster, and a bedrock of progressive political economy. If your political or economic views tend to lean in the other direction, you may want to avoid this, unless you (a) really want to see your blood pressure zoom up off the charts or (b) want an excuse to write an apoplectic 1-star review based less on the book’s merits than on its author’s political stance.

    The bottom line? This is a collection of lesser works, which won’t shed any dramatic new light on either Piketty or his thoughts. That said, if you’re curious to know what he has said about any of the economic issues of the day (primarily in Europe) over the last six or seven years, this is a creditable and representative sampling, presented in bite-sized pieces, that will be of most interest and appeal to those with at least a rudimentary interest in and knowledge of economics and finance.

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