...the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life...

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

"Common People" and "Capital"

I'd heard recently that Pulp's "Common People" was voted by the UK public the best pop song ever, or somesuch, though it turns out I was a bit off: Best Britpop Song ever, as voted by BBC listeners. [Full version here, but with bad audio.] These listeners are on to something. The song builds in sound and dance-ability as it builds in outrage. I remember, back in the 90s, the story being that Britpop, specifically acts like Pulp & Blur, couldn't make it in the States because their concerns were too provincial, particularly when they turned to issues like class. We Americans live in a classless society, the thinking goes. Anyone can make it if they work hard enough.

Since I've never had to put that last sentence to the test in any real way, I can't attest to its truth. But reading all the press about Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century, currently the #1 book on Amazon, has made me think about the song again. One main gist of the book, as far as I can tell (I haven't read it yet), is that since the rate of return (r) on capital greatly outperforms the growth of economies (g), the already staggering gap between rich and poor will continue to grow, unless something is done about it:
Mr Piketty is not arguing that r>g means that rising inequality is inevitable. Indeed, that is close to the precise opposite of his argument, which is that r>g is a force for divergence in the economy which has at times been countered by external forces, and which can and should be similarly countered in [the] future.
This means that, as things are now, those who have or inherit money make more money than those who work hard, even if they work much harder than the haves do. I don't know how accurate Piketty's analysis is, but one recent study about wealth disparity in the U.S. concludes the following:
Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.
Little or no independent influence: i.e., common people.

[A live version of the song is here.]

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