Donald Trump represents 'nationalist and racist' backlash against globalisation: Thomas Piketty

Paris: Celebrated French economist Thomas Piketty, the author of an unlikely bestseller on capital, believes Donald Trump represents a "nationalist and racist" backlash against globalisation which must be countered by respect for the radical left's alternative platform.

Centrist leaders were partly to blame for the backlash, he said, after battling to marginalise leftist forces in Greece and Spain and the Democrat Bernie Sanders in the US, he told AFP in an interview.

"Donald Trump? This is the nationalist and racist response to the challenge of globalisation," said Piketty.

The angry revolt among working-class white Americans that the Republican presidential candidate has harnessed in his bid for the White House is merely about "designating scapegoats among migrant workers or Muslims", the professor and author said.

"It's Trump in the United States, it's (National Front leader) Marine Le Pen in France. It is found in Hungary or Poland," he added, interviewed in his office at the Paris School of Economics where one bookshelf is lined with translations of his book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century".

Not many treatises on economics make it to the top of bestseller lists, but the English translation elevated Piketty to global fame in 2013. He was hailed as "the modern Marx" for his analysis of the free market and the unequal concentration of wealth.

 Donald Trump represents nationalist and racist backlash against globalisation: Thomas Piketty

File photo of Thomas Piketty. Reuters

His critique has been echoed by other prominent economists such as Nobel laureate Angus Deaton, who told AFP last month that Trump's campaign and Britain's shock vote to quit the EU were symptoms of a botched drive to integrate globally.

Unless leaders find ways to "share the prosperity that comes through globalisation, then I think that we are in considerable danger", the British-US expert on poverty said.

Demands for a fairer distribution from the spoils of globalisation are finding favour even among bodies such as the International Monetary Fund, which has taken issue with Piketty's premise that income inequality is rising because returns on capital are swallowed up by the rich and are outpacing economic growth.

Piketty's latest work is a collection of French newspaper columns whose title invokes the battle cry of La Marseillaise: "Aux Urnes Citoyens!" (Citizens, to the voting booths!)

"It is an appeal to get involved, to take part in every primary and every election, in order not to give in," he said.

His sympathies lie with the likes of Sanders and with Greece's Syriza party or Podemos in Spain, both of which he says were too long ignored by mainstream leaders deaf to the demands of their voters, and by the diktats of Germany during the eurozone crisis.

Piketty denounced the "absurd" rules of the eurozone's Stability and Growth Pact, which enforces limits on national deficits and debt.

Piketty says he remains in favour of the euro project but that a more democratic Europe would have resulted in "less austerity, more growth and less unemployment".

Instead, he says, that was thwarted by the Germans and the European Commission, backed by France.

"We wanted to promote the ideas of the so-called radical left," he said, encouraging an internationalist outlook and pro-growth policies.

"Well, here we are, stuck with the nationalist and populist right," the economist lamented, arguing that the Brexit vote was the ultimate expression of popular disillusion with an undemocratic Europe.

He regretted "a dialogue of the deaf in the eurozone between preserving the status quo and those who want to scrap everything".

"We have to find space for debate between these two positions."

Piketty also demanded that President Francois Hollande, France's most unpopular leader of modern times, get off the fence and announce whether he will run in next year's presidential election.

His advice to the Socialist president, however, is to rule out another term and allow an alternative standard-bearer to emerge for the left.

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Updated Date: Oct 25, 2016 11:51:09 IST