Saturday, June 6, 2020

Capital and Ideology II

The book includes a detailed description of the historical structure of society in several countries. The earliest widespread structure, called ternary or trifunctional, consisted of the nobility, the clergy and "the third estate," which represented ordinary workers of low status. In France, that system existed up to 1789, from where it gradually evolved into the next structure, which is called proprietary. England went through a similar process, but without a full-scale revolution. The propriety structure runs right up to the present, and, as the name suggests, is based on the ownership of property. Many of the examples of proprietary structure come from France and England and are a repeat of content from Piketty's last book. Once again he examines the unequal ownership of property and uses Balzac and Jane Austen for accurate descriptions of the early nineteenth century in France and England. He also includes data from the Belle Époch, which ran from the end of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871 to World War I in 1914. As recounted in his last book, that period, though rich in the arts, was characterized by extreme wealth inequality. He also includes data on Sweden and other countries.

The book is quite long – 1041 pages – and goes into great detail, usually relying on data such as inheritance records. Besides being a little tedious to read, the early sections amount to evidence that he will use for his central arguments at the end of the book. Of course, this type of process is hardly concise and makes the book look like a major academic treatise. More than ever, Piketty comes across as a slightly pedantic academic who is forcing the readers to wade through minutia that may not be of much interest to them. Although the data is often rich, I am finding that I don't need most of it and would be much happier with "the short version," a concept which seems to barely register with Piketty. For this reason, I am passing across the pages far more rapidly than usual in order to finish the book in a reasonable amount of time. Moreover, I don't particularly like historical approaches, because they often seem arbitrary to me, and historians never seem to be good at summarizing conceptual issues. For these reasons, I am not going to dwell on anything and will move as quickly as possible without referencing the countless bits of information.

In passing, one issue came up that shows the difference between my thinking and Piketty's. Writing about the Aryan nobles in India and nobles in other regions, he says:

...the historical evidence suggests that classes mixed to such a degree that any supposed ethnic differences disappeared almost entirely within a few generations.

I think that Piketty embodies many liberal biases, because he is commenting on something without taking into account alternate views. With respect to the Brahmins, here is what David Reich, the geneticist, has to say:

The people who were the custodians of Indo-European language and culture were the ones with more relative steppe ancestry, and because of the extraordinary strength of the caste system, the ancient substructure in the ANI [ancestral north Indians] is evident in some of today's Brahmins even after thousands of years.

My point here is that Piketty, though roughly correct, has no interest in accurate genetic information which contradicts the unquestioned liberal assumption that all people and ethnicities have essentially the same capabilities. There are differences which, though small, should not be glossed over unless research disproves it. As I've said before, though a genetic view of the abilities of different groups may seem racist, in cases such as those put forward by David Reich, there is scientific evidence to back them up, and the default liberal academic trope that all people are essentially the same looks much like propaganda. It is apparent to me that Piketty comes with a lot of intellectual baggage which may not hold up well if you remove him from his particular academic bubble. Thus, while I admire him for his quest for the cause of equality, it is hard for me to overcome the aspects of his thought that amount to no more than academic received wisdom. There are real differences between people, and some of those differences are the result of their genetic backgrounds.

I am hoping to wade through another 200 pages before making my next post.

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