The French exception

Thomas Piketty’s book has taken the Anglo world by storm, but has been out for two years in France without generating anything like the same fuss. Why?

One reason, perhaps, is that the French didn’t think it was left-wing enough. Another reason, muses the Economist,

is that questions about inequality, the centrepiece of Mr Piketty’s research, have long been central to the political debate in France, a country that already has an annual wealth tax on assets. This has been true for the right as much as for the left. Jacques Chirac, a Gaullist, was first elected president by campaigning to mend the country’s “social fracture”. Mr Hollande was at his most passionate on the campaign stump when denouncing the world of finance as his “chief adversary”, and the super-rich as “grasping and arrogant”. In short, drawing attention to resurgent inequality has a sense of novelty in America, but in France it is a political given.

That seems about right to me. I am reminded of the row there was many years about the decision to ‘rebrand’ Free Software as ‘Open Source’. The reason? Lots of people in the free software movement thought that it was being held back by the fact that the US corporate world sees the word “free” as synonymous with communism. It’s nuts, but that’s America for you.