Thomas Piketty to India’s Elite: ‘Learn From History’

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tags: India, Thomas Piety

Thumbnail Image - "Thomas Piketty 2015" by Gobierno de Chile - File:Jefa de Estado recibió en audiencia al economista francés Thomas Piketty (16253086376).jpg. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

Many people in the room were seeking Thomas Piketty’s attention, but what caught his eye was a small photograph of Bill Gates in a newspaper. “My friend,” he said with a chuckle.

In his recent, celebrated book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” Mr. Piketty, a French economist, argues that billionaires should be taxed heavily, as a way of dealing with the growing inequality that he sees as being as harmful for the economy as for society. Mr. Gates, he said, had wished to meet him, but invited him “to another planet,” by which Mr. Piketty meant someplace outside Europe. “So we Skyped.”

Yet, Mr. Piketty seemed happy to be on another planet last week, visiting Mumbai for a major cultural event, Times Litfest, where he gave a lecture on India as a vastly unequal place. Afterward, he was mobbed by fans, some of whom introduced themselves by way of the American universities they had attended. “Harvard,” one man said. “Harvard,” the man’s wife, too, said.

After he fled to the authors’ lounge, Mr. Piketty told me that he found the elite of India “hypocritical” for urging their government to address inequality by pouring resources into economic development, like building infrastructure or helping selected industries. This is self-serving, he says, and only increases the gap between the rich and the poor. In his opinion, governments should find the means to invest more in social welfare, like primary education and health care.

Before the world wars, he said, “the French elite used to say the same things that the Indian elite now say, that inequality would be reduced with rising development.” But after the wars, he said, the French began to see that direct investment in welfare was the way forward.

“I hope the Indian elite learn from the stupid mistakes of the other elites,” he said. “Learn from history.”

Read entire article at NYT

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