The authors of the law were happy to welcome Piketty, the economic data-cruncher and rockstar, warmly into the fold, giving him a quote and a compliment right at the top of the Seattle ordinance:
Whereas, the noted economist Thomas Piketty wrote in his landmark book Capital in the 21st Century, the need to act on income inequality as "[r]eal wages for most US workers have increased little if at all since the early 1970s, but wages for the top one percent of earners have risen 165%, and wages for the top .1% have risen 362%"
One problem: Piketty didn't write that. It appears nowhere in his book. That quote, and those numbers, are from Paul Krugman, in the New York Review of Books, in his analysis of Piketty. Maybe it's the case of potato-potahto: if you've seen one rock-star economist, you've seen them all.
Read the ordinance for yourself (it's a PDF file). It's right there, and it's wrong. The wage stagnation of the past 40 years is, yes, mentioned but not at all a big theme in Capital in the 21st Century. And, also, the author sees capital assets as historically more important than wages. (He does, however, recognize the current significance of managerial pay.) And when it comes to assets, what has never changed in the history of the West is that the bottom 50 percent have none. Zero.
Piketty's solution to the growing levels of inequality today? Not wage increases but tax increases on the rich. And the tax increases have to be global if they are to be effective. But how do you implement a global tax without a global polity? This is the big hole in the book—which, by the way, I will be discussing next Tuesday at Vermillion Gallery at 6 pm. Join me if you have read, or are reading, or plan to read this important work.