On September 12, 2019, when the new tome Capital and ideology Released in France, on the front pages of the newspapers next to the face of its author Thomas Piketty were the marches against Macron and the pension reform plan, the European volleyball championship, Mario Draghi’s last speech to the ECB, Greta Thunberg in sailboat in the Atlantic towards the UN tribune in New York and – attention – the strike by doctors and nurses against cuts to the health service. Only a few months have passed. They seem centuries, as they say, and Capital and ideology now comes out in Italy (La Nave di Teseo) in an unrecognizable world. Yet Piketty’s denunciation – inequalities depend on a perverse choice of politics, they are not an inevitable product of the economy – seems even more current. In an interview with 7 via FaceTime, the famous EHESS researcher in Paris, a planetary star after selling six million copies of the previous book Capital in the 21st century , explains why the new reality also seems to prove him right.
Thomas Piketty, what do you think of the state of the world in Covid times?
It seems to me that the opportunity of my approach is confirmed. The coronavirus crisis has made the violence of inequalities emerge even more evident, which existed before but deepened. Faced with the disease, we are even more unequal, there is a problem of access to treatment, of cuts to the health system.
What about confinement?
Quarantine showed extreme inequalities. We have all been called to stay at home, but many do not have a house and have remained on the street as always, others have spent two months prisoners of microscopic apartments, still others have enjoyed their large houses with gardens. The epidemic has amplified and brought even more attention to the problems that already existed. Our economic system must be changed, it has never been so clear as it is now.
Where would it start from?
From the public health system. In France, but I also believe in Italy, we are all in shock because of the lack of enough beds, masks, tampons, fans.
It could be argued that the pandemic is an exceptional event that has upset the routine of health services.
Yes, but the public system was coming from decades of cuts, it was severely weakened and in fact French doctors and nurses protested and went on strike in September, months before news of the virus arrived from Wuhan. The epidemic gave them even more reason.
What do you think could happen now?
We should return to investing in the public, in education, in pensions, and in particular in healthcare. The health needs provoked by the epidemic could lead to deeper political and ideological changes. I am thinking, for example, of the European institutions. the time to move on to the higher stage, to think about the public debt of the euro area and to pool interest rates.
A hypothesis against which the German Constitutional Court, the Karlsruhe robes, makes a barrier.
The ruling of May 5 saddened me greatly. But it doesn’t surprise me, they are extremely conservative and partisan judges. Their enormous historical ignorance, they think that the European Central Bank should have let the banks go bankrupt one after the other after the crisis of 2008. That is what happened in the thirties, with the consequences that we know, when the central banks had not intervened . But in the Karlsruhe judgment there is a positive element.
German judges have at least pushed the Berlin government to take a stand, to clarify what it wants to do.
And Angela Merkel, with the Franco-German Initiative, broke the tab of the pooling of debt.
Finally. In this way the ball is now in the field of governments of the four largest countries of the European Union: Germany, France, Italy, Spain.
Who support the Merkel-Macron proposal, but clash with the no of the Northern countries.
I think it is really serious what some politicians from Northern Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, insinuate: basically we want to steal their money, treat us like slackers, when then their country acts like a tax haven.
The Netherlands are not the only brakes, they agree with Austria, Denmark and Sweden, which have found their spokesperson for the Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
Patience, at this point we can no longer wait. We must act, without waiting for a unanimity that will never come. Countries that are ready to advance on the path of pooling interest rates can and must move on their own. The others will join later if they wish.
What should Berlin, Paris, Rome and Madrid actually do?
A new treaty for four. Otherwise, they run the risk of remaining immobile, with the alibi of being hindered by someone. Before, the big excuse was Britain, now that the Northern countries are out. Instead, the moment to overcome the rule of unanimity and the right of veto on such vital issues. We cannot wait to convince the Netherlands or Luxembourg. Let’s go on without them, then we’ll see.
You have always denounced the democratic deficit of the European institutions. What democratic legitimacy would a reduced treaty have? We could develop the excellent idea of the Francotech Assembly created two years ago with the Treaty of the Elysée between France and Germany. a joint assembly with a hundred deputies, for now purely consultative, but we could broaden their skills and extend it to representatives of Italy and Spain.
In the past, French President Macron has often referred to the possibility of a Europe of concentric centers, at multiple levels or speeds, where some countries agree and advance on specific issues.
the time has come. And I think the Italian government has a central role in this. Rome could support the proposals of the Spanish premier Pedro Snchez, which I find very interesting: for example the idea of a perpetual or very long-term debt, perhaps fifty years, of 1,000 or 1,500 billion, put on the budget of the European Central Bank. Recall that the budget of the ECB between 2008 and 2018 went from 1,000 to over 4,500 billion, that is, from 10 per cent to 40 per cent of GDP in the euro area, and this to save banks from a financial crisis that they themselves had helped to provoke.
In your works, you argue that the two world wars in the twentieth century had the side effect of partially reducing inequalities. the same role that Covid-19 virus could now play, an exceptional event capable of provoking an extraordinary response from governments? We should not rely on world wars or epidemics to solve problems. Exceptional events can have many possible outlets: in the past we had the birth of the Welfare State, but also the rise of fascism. I don’t know what will happen now, the crisis could also benefit populists like Marine Le Pen in France or Matteo Salvini in Italy. But nationalism is a poison that also circulates in certain center-left or center-right parties in Northern Europe, those who accuse Southern Europeans of wanting to take advantage of them.
Who will win?
My hope that the voters, given the seriousness of the epidemic, will not want to entrust the power to dangerous clowns like Donald Trump or Jair Bolsonaro. But nothing written in advance. One of the messages that I consider important in my book that economic and financial matters belong to everyone, are not technical topics reserved for specialists. The future depends on all of us.
After decades of rhetoric of excellence, in your book you are not fond of meritocracy.
The problem that the ideology of meritocracy often embraced by the winners of the education system to blame the losers for their failures: you should have done more, be more deserving, more diligent, better. If the left has detached itself from the popular classes in the last 50 years, precisely because it has become the party of graduates and has abandoned the less privileged. But meritocracy, in current conditions, is a distorted race because the starting conditions are not the same. We must go back to investing in school, university, public education, and really allow more students to study and train effectively. Then we can talk about meritocracy
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