More about the Brahmin left and merchant right

Democrats in the U.S., the Labor Party in Britain and left-wing parties in France no longer primarily represent the interests of wage earners, according to Thomas Piketty, the famous French economist.

Instead they represent an educated elite, which he calls the Brahmin left, while the conservative parties represent a financial elite, which he calls the merchant right.

The educated elite are not an intellectual elite.  Having advanced college degrees don’t make you an intellectual any more than owning stocks and bonds makes you an entrepreneur.

I agree that there is less conflict of interest between the educated elite and the financial elite than there is between the two elites and the majority of wage-earners.

In a typical Fortune 500 corporation, the CEO, the board of directors and the institutional stockholders would be the merchant right.

Salaried middle management, the highly-paid consultants and most especially the human resources department would be the Brahmin left.  Their income would not come from financial assets, but from their rank in an organization, for which they would qualify by means of educational credentials.

The human resources department of an organization usually determines the organizational culture.  Typically HR people are big on diversity training and being LGBTQ allies because these things do not affect the wealth of stockholders or the power of top management.

American non-profit organizations such as universities and hospitals and also government agencies are adopting a  corporate model.

This means a well-paid top-heavy administrative overhead along with lower pay, higher demands and less security for those who do actual work.   Adjunct teachers, hospital nurses and letter carriers are treated just the same as factory workers.

Just to be clear, I’m in favor of sticking up for the rights of minorities, women and other groups that are targets of prejudice.  What’s wrong is using this as cover for lower wages, longer hours, expansion of contingent work and a fight against labor unions.

Such are my observations about American institutional life.  I don’t know how true these observations are true of institutions in Britain and France, or whether they are true at all, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were.

Thomas Piketty explores these issues and more in his new book, Capital and Ideology, which has been published in French and will be published in English next March.  Here’s what he said about it last summer—

An economic, social and political history of inequality regimes from tri-fucntional and colonial societies to post-communist, post-colonial, hyper-capitalist societies.

As compared to Capital in the 21st Century (2013): less western-oriented and focused on the transformation of ideology.

A much better book (I believe!)

A reporter for The Guardian wrote—

Piketty’s new book … explores the ideas that have justified inequality down the ages, bemoans the ineffectiveness of the traditional parties of left and right at coming up with solutions for redistributing wealth, and advances his own ideas for making economies fairer. … …

Among the proposals in the book are that employees should have 50% of the seats on company boards; that the voting power of even the largest shareholders should be capped at 10%; much higher taxes on property, rising to 90% for the largest estates; a lump sum capital allocation of €120,000 (just over £107,000 [$132,000]) to everyone when they reach 25; and an individualised carbon tax calculated by a personalised card that would track each person’s contribution to global heating.

These are drastic policies for reducing the power of financial wealth.  I’m not sure I would go that far, but I will keep an open mind.

But what about the Brahmin left, the elite whose power comes from their educational credentials and the position in organizations.  How do you prevent them from levering their position to enrich themselves and make themselves more powerful?  I wonder if Piketty’s book has anything to say about that.

If I am still sound in mind and body in March, 2020, I promise to read the book and report back.


Le blog de Thomas Piketty (in English)

Brahmin Left vs. Marchant Right: Rising Inequality and Changing Structure of Political Conflict (Evidence from France, Britain and the US, 1948-2017) by Thomas Piketty.

On the political contradictions of accumulation by Thomas Piketty.

Thomas Piketty’s new War and Peace-sized book by Larry Elliott for The Guardian.

Why Democracy Fails to Reduce Inequality: Blame It on the Brahmin Left by Aaron Schecter for the Stigler Center of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.


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One Response to “More about the Brahmin left and merchant right”

  1. whungerford Says:

    The chart at the top reflects that in the 1940s and 50s the Republican Party was seen as the party of good government. Support for Democrats by educated Americans doesn’t mean that the Democratic Party represents an elite, but that educated persons prefer to be represented by Democrats.


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