At the battle of Gettysburg, the defence of the Union army’s flank was entrusted to a man whose biggest responsibility until then had been as professor of rhetoric at an east coast university. In the 1993 movie of the battle, his commander tells him: “Now we’ll see how professors fight.” In their latest books, both #Yanis Varoufakis – the former Greek finance minister – and #Thomas Piketty (pictured) confront the same dilemma: how does a life of academic precision prepare you for a struggle over economic policy in which rationality and proof go out of the window? How, in the modern world, do leftwing professors fight?
Piketty’s Chronicles is a collection of his columns written for the leftist daily newspaper Libération and spans the period from just before Lehman Brothers collapsed until after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015. Coming on the heels of his masterwork, Capital in the 21st Century, one might expect this to be the lesser contribution.
In fact, Piketty unleashed on real-time economics is a revelation: he is lucid and persuasive – all the more so for being proved right about most of the events he is responding to, even though the full facts only came out later.
He spots the feebleness of Obama’s fiscal stimulus, even as most financial columnists are warning of its overambition. He spots, at a point when most people were struggling to comprehend quantitative easing, its theoretical flaw. Unless central banks begin to “lend at all maturities and to every kind of economic actor … these unconventional policies will sooner or later reach their limits”, Piketty warned in 2009. Today – amid a welter of new financial stress alarms – those limits have been reached.
Piketty on real-time economics is a revelation and Varoufakis is illuminating about the far-right threat – but the fate of their cherished democratic Europe seems dire