‘Useful Utopia’ vs. ‘Dangerous Illusion’: Notes on ‘Capital in the 21st Century’ by Thomas Piketty
AbstractStarting from the notion of “useful utopia” elaborated by Thomas Piketty in his monumental work The Capital in the 21st Century, this paper aims to make an introductory exposition of some of the main theses offered by the work of the French economist, confronting them, whenever possible, with those theses of the classic Marxian The Capital, which those work mentions as advertising piece. To this end, this investigation begins with the Slavoj Žižek’s acid criticism against Piketty, especially his disapproval of the Pikettian defense of a utopia in the 21st century. However, it has been found that there is necessarily no problem in utopianism within a heterodox Marxist tradition, provided that it is understood as a negative proposition that tends to require much more of the historical reality than it is capable of offering (Section 1). Moreover, it has been shown that The Capital in the 21st Century is by no means a radical critique of capitalism, nor a continuation of the Marxian classic, although it does use some important notions of this work, such as the notion of rate of remuneration (Section 2). Additionally, that Piketty’s book also attempts to bring the economics to inside of the human sciences, especially sociology and history, against the mathematical solipsism of contemporary economics. However, the French economist at no time hides his antipathy for the emancipatory proposals of Marxism, which often makes him repeat certain anti-Marxist jargon of our time. Finally, the article reflects on the useful utopia of the author, showing that for Piketty such a proposal would be a third way between the apocalyptic theories of marxism and those of fairy tale of liberalism, not being a “dangerous illusion”, term used by the economist to designate other divergent proposals for the regulation of capitalism (Section 3).
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