Thomas Piketty

TIME 100 2015 Thomas Piketty
Vincent Capman—Riva Press/Redux

Chronicler of inequality

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, first published in 2013 and translated into English last year, forced an international focus on income and wealth inequality. President Obama suggested that the issue should become the new national challenge—JFK’s race to the moon.

The boldest enthusiasts believed that Marxism, shorn of the gulag and the body count, might get a second hearing.

Conservatives noted that Capital was published 50 years after LBJ’s Great Society speech, which launched a thousand government programs to end poverty. Fifty years and $20 trillion in government spending later, the U.S. poverty rate remains stuck at 15%.

Was Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics, moving the goalposts from reducing poverty to reducing inequality in order to sidestep that expensive failure? Worse, inequality can be reduced without helping a single poor family—by reducing total national wealth. It happens every recession.

And yet, despite those criticisms, every prominent Republican has taken up the challenge, refocusing arguments for economic growth on how it would create opportunity for the “least among us.” Kemp-Roth as social justice.

Perhaps Piketty has brought not Marx but John Rawls back to center stage.

Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform

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