Piketty on Piketty

The AEA’s annual meeting featured a panel discussion of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. You can stream the entire thing here.

Piketty’s reply is excellent. My favorite point is where he argues that progressive consumption taxes are not good substitutes for wealth taxes. From his powerpoint:

The very notion of consumption is not well-defined for top wealth holders. Billionaires consume power and influence, not food and clothes. When the Koch brothers finance political campaigns, should this be included in their personal consumption?

The audio goes further, with humorous effect. “You know, billionaires can consume politicians, they can consume journalists, sometimes they consume academics…”

But it’s not just nice quoteable quotes like that: you get the sense that Piketty is someone who knows his subject in and out, at what I call the “no-bullshit level.” It’s just great to see. There are also some of those delicious little barbs in there that target fellow panelists without being obvious about it (i.e., everything about the Bush administration).