Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Piketty: Wealthy Buy Influence at Think Tanks

This is from a PBS NewsHour interview of French economist Thomas Piketty by correspondent Paul Solman:

Paul Solman: Will inequality threaten our democratic institutions because the people who are wealthy will commandeer them — buy too much influence over them?

Thomas Piketty: Yes, in several ways. Access to the political process and influence in Washington and tax policy is certainly disproportionate, which allows the wealthy to keep some advantages.
When you have large wealth, you cannot just consume like other people. You start to consume influence, consume politicians, consume academics, you consume power; this is what high wealth is here for…

Paul Solman: Wait, but have you been consumed as an academic?

Thomas Piketty: Well, I try not to be, in general, but when the possibility to fund a think tank depends so much on large individual wealth holdings, yes, I think wealth can buy influence and knowledge.

 Paul Solman: Have you “sucked up to” wealthy grant-givers ever?

Thomas Piketty: No, I am lucky enough to have a wage that is paid by my public institution in Paris that makes it so that I don’t need to do that.

Paul Solman: But you know people who do?

Thomas Piketty: Well if you look at the funding of think tanks and expertise centers, in both Asia and Brussels or in Washington, but I think even more so in Washington, yes, private money is playing a big role.

Mr. Piketty is probably most well known for his new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.  It has been said that conservatives "have flocked to their think tanks" for ideas about how to discredit the book, which focuses on wealth and income inequality in the US and Europe since the 18th century.

(Hat tip to Hans Gutbrod for the PBS link)