Economist Thomas Piketty accuses Germany of forgetting history as it lectures Greece BY CHICO HARLAN July 6 at 1:35 PM

With a flurry of exclamation points and curt rebuttals, Thomas Piketty, who rocketed to stardom last year with his treatise on inequality, told a German newspaper that the Germans are being hypocritical in the way they’re treating Greece.

A number of prominent economists have raised concerns about Germany’s approach to the Greek debt crisis, which Germans say reflects a need to force changes in Greece’s economy so that it never again has such a crisis.

French economist Thomas Piketty (Neal Leon/AFP)

But in the interview with Die Zeit, Thomas Piketty went even farther, saying that the Germans are only in the strong economic position they are today because they benefited from the forgiveness of their neighbors after World War II.

It was in the 1950s, he notes, that Germany benefited from a massive — and, in those days, surprisingly common — round of debt forgiveness that catapulted its rise into a peaceful economic power. Greece was one of the nations forgiving Germany’s debts. In other words, Piketty suggested, when it comes to how to handle Greece in 2015, the best argument against Germany might be … Germany, circa 1953.

“When I hear the Germans say that they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: What a huge joke!” Piketty said in the interview, translated by the site (though later taken down due to copyright concerns). “Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations.”

Piketty continued:

We cannot demand that new generations must pay for decades for the mistakes of their parents. The Greeks have, without a doubt, made big mistakes. Until 2009, the government in Athens forged its books. But despite this, the younger generation of Greeks carries no more responsibility for the mistakes of its elders than the younger generation of Germans did in the 1950s and 1960s. We need to look ahead. Europe was founded on debt forgiveness and investment in the future. Not on the idea of endless penance. We need to remember this.

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Piketty works at the Paris School of Economics and last year published the English version of his 700-page book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” which sold millions of copies and documents the growth of wealth inequality in the developed world over many generations. In the interview with Die Zeit, Piketty makes the argument that decisions about whether  to forgive or not forgive can have generational implications.

While Greece’s debt has already been trimmed, those relief efforts have been essentially cancelled out by Greece’s shrinking economy — and its shrinking tax revenue. Greece lately has failed to hit budget surplus targets, and the International Monetary Fund last month said that the country’s debt burden appeared unsustainable without further relief measures. And such measures are exactly what Greece is asking for.

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Chart: You’re Working More But Earning Less – By Dave Gilson| Fri Sep. 26, 2014 6:00 AM EDT

We’ll be posting a new chart on the current state of income inequality every day for the next couple of weeks. Yesterday’s chart looked at the history of the 1 percent, from ancient Rome to today.

Today, another look at how middle-class incomes have been stuck in neutral while the rest of the economy has grown. In 2012, the median household income (adjusted for inflation) was the same as it was in 1996.

Sources: Household income: US Census; economic growth: St. Louis Fed; 1 percent: Emmanuel Saez and Thomas Piketty (Excel); corporate profits: St. Louis Fed  

Illustrations and infographic design by Mattias Mackler​

Rise of the myth busters: Why Piketty and Tyson are the icons America needs – PAUL ROSENBERG SUNDAY, JUN 8, 2014 5:00 PM UTC

Rise of the myth busters: Why Piketty and Tyson are the icons America needs

Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” was published on March 10, 2014, the day after the first episode of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey” aired on Fox and its sister networks.

The fact that both men have captured the public imagination at the same time is at least partly due to that simple fact. There’s also the matter of professional ripeness, behind the appearance of fresh fame: Piketty had been around for some time, publishing papers and collaborating on constructing the Top Incomes database along with Emmanuel Saez, but he’d never published anything remotely as sweeping as “Capital” before. Similarly, Tyson had long been a prominent science communicator as well as astrophysicist, appearing as a guest on numerous shows, including both “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” as well as hosting PBS’s “Nova ScienceNow.” But he’d never hosted a commercial TV show before.

Yet, the two men’s sudden popularity is rooted in some deeper similarities as well — an empirical hunger, and a desire to think big in shaping the future, are two that come readily to mind. These are both long-standing features of American culture, exemplified by figures like Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison, George Washington Carver, Luther Burbank, just to name a few. But both these cultural appetites have been repeatedly stifled in 21st-century America. The Bush administration was infamous for its disdain for the empirical, as encapsulated in this famous passage from Ron Suskind:

In the summer of 2002, after I had written an article in Esquire that the White House didn’t like about Bush’s former communications director, Karen Hughes, I had a meeting with a senior adviser to Bush. He expressed the White House’s displeasure, and then he told me something that at the time I didn’t fully comprehend — but which I now believe gets to the very heart of the Bush presidency.

The aide [later identified as Karl Rove] said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” … “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Thomas Piketty terrifies Paul Ryan: Behind the right’s desperate, laughable need to destroy an economist – PAUL ROSENBERG WEDNESDAY, APR 30, 2014 11:00 PM UTC

Five years post-collapse, Piketty and Elizabeth Warren offer a way ahead. That’s why the right must destroy them

Thomas Piketty terrifies Paul Ryan: Behind the right's desperate, laughable need to destroy an economist

Thomas Piketty’s “Capital in the 21st Century” hit No. 1 at Amazon, right around the time that Elizabeth Warren released her book “A Fighting Chance.” Far from being the only figures addressing the failure of unregulated market capitalism to produce fair outcomes and broad prosperity, they embody two key facets of that criticism: the intellectual/academic and pragmatic/political. But there are a host of other figures criticizing the workings of actually existing capitalism and the increasingly destructive inequalities of wealth we see it producing all around us.

It may have taken more than five years since the financial crisis hit in late 2008, but are we finally seeing signs of a coherent response coming together? A number of recent developments suggest that we are. Just in the last few weeks, for example, another hot new book is “Flash Boys,” the latest from Michael Lewis on the most recent form of mass-scamming on Wall Street, and there’s new attention being drawn to the work of Martin Gilens demonstrating the power of elite control of our political system. His book “Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality and Political Power in America” was an award-winner in political science last year, but his follow-up study with Benjamin I. Page, the essay “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups, and Average Citizens,” has touched a broader nerve, with stories at the New Yorker, Huffington Post, and by Michael Lind here at Salon, among others, with added notice on cable TV. And of course, Pope Francis keeps mouthing off against inequality, too (which routinely causes Paul Ryan to comically insist – almost Stephen Colbert-style – that the pope is actually inveighing against the welfare state).

What makes Piketty and Warren stand out, in particular, is that real change needs both a framework of shared knowledge and possibility — which Piketty’s vast store of data helps provide — and exemplars of articulate, high-level struggle setting the terms of public debate, which is where Warren comes in.

This is not to say that Piketty’s work is something simply to rally around. That’s more of the pope’s territory. There is plenty to debate about Piketty’s work. But so far, criticism from the right has been ludicrous, while criticism from the left has been largely overlooked — a situation that must inevitably change if something is really to be done about inequality.