Philippe Askenazy

Let’s All Become Rentiers! For a New Distribution of Wealth Publication date : February 10, 2016

Philippe Askénazy is a senior researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), a professor at the Paris School of Economics, and a columnist for Le Monde. He is the author of Décennies aveugles and Désordres du travail (Le Seuil), which was awarded the Readers’ Prize for Economics (2004). He is a leading figure of Les Economistes Atterrés (appalled economists), a collective that proposes alternative economic solutions.

The starting point of this book is a simple observation: despite the soaring inequality in contemporary society, the redistributive policies that could help correct it are completely stalled — and so is social democracy. Isn’t such a failure a sign that we should find alternative ways of thinking and acting? Let’s suppose that instead of correcting or reducing inequality we tackled the problem at the root. Suppose that what needs reassessing is the distribution of wealth.
Denouncing the idea that inequality is somehow ‘natural’ and thus inevitable, Philippe Askénazy points out that while capitalism has been growing and thriving, labour has been lagging. And while the rentier’s income was rising, wages stagnated, trade unions were weakened and job security lost.
In addition, a detailed analysis of rents and annuities reveals a complete restructuring of wealth. While property ownership was allegedly being democratised (‘everyone can be a home owner’), we allowed business enterprises to turn human life into a form of merchandise and we made it easier for property owners to benefit from public windfalls, in order to boost the value of their investments. The development and appropriation of ‘rentier’ income has also had an impact on labour: while some categories of workers have been forced to increase productivity, thus providing stockholders with higher dividends, other categories have managed to obtain higher wages and to protect job status.
In this fascinating and powerfully argued work, Philippe Askénazy poses a crucial question: how can we empower the labour force, so that everyone can get a share of the rentier’s income? Raising the minimum wage is not enough. A new labour movement is needed. And if capital has become so exceedingly powerful, shouldn’t it be broken down and weakened? Askénazy argues that our society’s economic cards need to be reshuffled, and a new hand dealt to all the players.

• Politically, this book is an appeal to all the social democracies, urging them to overcome their powerlessness and their deadly pragmatism.
• A bold economic stance: Askénazy’s rereads and rehabilitates Marx against Picketty.