Thomas Piketty says Bernie Sanders can "change the face of the country”

"Sanders’s success today shows that much of America is tired of rising inequality"

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published February 16, 2016 9:50PM (EST)

Thomas Piketty        (AP/Janerik Henriksson)
Thomas Piketty (AP/Janerik Henriksson)

In a new op-ed published in the Guardian on Tuesday, famed French economist and author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty credits Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders with waking the larger American political establishment up to the problem of rising income inequality and channelling the Democratic electorate's righteous outrage. Piketty says that Sanders' campaign proves that a leader like Sanders—if not Sanders himself—“could one day soon win the U.S. presidential elections and change the face of the country.”

"Because he is facing the Clinton machine, as well as the conservatism of mainstream media, Sanders might not win the race," Piketty observes, but, "in many respects, we are witnessing the end of the politico-ideological cycle opened by the victory of Ronald Reagan at the 1980 elections."

Both former president Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama have failed to even attempt real tax reform, allowing for inequality to run rampant, according to Piketty. "Sanders’ success today" however, Piketty argues, "shows that much of America is tired of rising inequality and these so-called political changes, and intends to revive both a progressive agenda and the American tradition of egalitarianism":

Sanders makes clear he wants to restore progressive taxation and a higher minimum wage ($15 an hour). To this he adds free healthcare and higher education in a country where inequality in access to education has reached unprecedented heights, highlighting a gulf standing between the lives of most Americans, and the soothing meritocratic speeches pronounced by the winners of the system.

"Meanwhile," Piketty notes, "the Republican party sinks into a hyper-nationalist, anti-immigrant and anti-Islam discourse (even though Islam isn’t a great religious force in the country), and a limitless glorification of the fortune amassed by rich white people." And Sanders' rival, Hillary Clinton, is now "just another heiress of the Reagan-Clinton-Obama political regime."

Despite observing that "the judges appointed under Reagan and Bush have lifted any legal limitation on the influence of private money in politics," Picketty is not resigned to doom, instead crediting the Sanders campaign with offering a real counter to fight unlimited campaign contributions rather than succumbing to its power.

"New forms of political mobilization and crowdfunding can prevail and push America into a new political cycle," Picketty wrote. "We are far from gloomy prophecies about the end of history."

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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2016 Democratic Primary Bernie Sanders Income Inequality Taxes Thomas Piketty