Three book reviews everyone needs to read today! Now!

Capital in the Twenty-First Century

The first is Noah Millman’s superb summary and short analysis of Thomas Piketty’s Captial, the current bible of the lefty stateniks and redistributionistas. I’m being snarky. Actually, Millman defends Piketty and concludes that Piketty’s theory is plausible and worrisome:

From these very simple, largely unassailable ideas, Piketty derives an alarming conclusion: that, absent political intervention, wealth will compound more rapidly than income grows, swelling to a larger and larger multiple of national income and claiming an ever larger percentage of the national income itself, to the point where inherited wealth comes to matter more than earned income. At which point we will have returned to the very patrimonial world that preceded capitalism.

This is the first irony of Piketty’s analysis. Although his book is titled to recall Marx’s, Marx told a story about how capitalism changed economic relations, tearing apart old hierarchies in a ruthless quest for efficiency. Piketty tells a story about how capitalism did not change economic relations. Heredity mattered a lot in Balzac’s Paris, but it surely mattered even more in Louis XIV’s—and Piketty argues that it matters more now than it did in 1950 and will matter in the future as much as it did in 1850. Piketty’s book could have been titled The Capitalist Road Back To Serfdom.


Thomas Piketty is to be commended for putting the question of distribution at the center of discussion about our economic future, rather than, as is more common in the dominant neoliberal framework, treating it as important only inasmuch as it bears on questions of mobility and growth. He is to be commended as well for demanding a humbler empiricism from the community of economists. But if we are to proceed from analysis to action, we still need a more robust theory of what is actually causing the problem that we observe. And while there is a certain French elegance to single, universal solutions, it may be that a diversity of attacks, tailored to the economic situations of different countries and regions, is not only more plausible than a new, global tax regime but more optimal as well.

Read the whole article here ( It’s excellent. Use it to impress your lefty friends at parties. You don’t have to read the book.

The Pathologisation of Everyday Life

The spikedonline book review of Allen Francis’ Saving Normal: An Insider’s Revolt Against Out-of-Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma, and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life.

Frances’ arguments about the dangers of inflating psychiatric conditions and psychiatric diagnosis are persuasive – maybe more so because he honestly admits to his own role in developing such an inflation. He is keenly aware of the risks of diagnostic inflation ‘because of painful firsthand experience’, he writes. ‘Despite our efforts to tame excessive diagnostic exuberance, DSM-IV [Diagnostic and Statistical Manual-IV (DSM-IV) (published in 1994)] had since been misused to blow up the diagnostic bubble’. He is particularly concerned about the exponential increase in the diagnosis of psychiatric conditions in children, writing: ‘We failed to predict or prevent three new false epidemics of mental disorder in children – autism, attention deficit, and childhood bipolar disorder. And we did nothing to contain the rampant diagnostic inflation that was already expanding the boundary of psychiatry far beyond its competence.’

Read the whole thing:

Why suicide is a crime against humanity

From the June issue of the New Criterion, Emily Esfahani Smith explains:

The rise in suicide has been accompanied by a loss of the moral questions that once surrounded it. G. K. Chesterton was one of our last full-throated critics of suicide. His insistence that suicide is immoral sounds strange to our individualistic ears: “Not only is suicide a sin, it is the sin,” Chesterton wrote: “It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life. The man who kills a man, kills a man. The man who kills himself, kills all men; as far as he is concerned he wipes out the world.” Chesterton goes on to say that the act of suicide is selfish: “A suicide is a man who cares so little for anything outside him, that he wants to see the last of everything.” It would be difficult to imagine anyone writing such a polemic today. We do not consider suicide the moral catastrophe that people like Chesterton once thought it was.

Smith reviews Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book titled Stay:

An important new book does just that. Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It by the poet and philosopher Jennifer Michael Hecht challenges our culture’s acceptance of suicides and reinvigorates the moral arguments against it. At a time when few philosophers or intellectuals are offering strong, compelling, secular arguments against suicide, Hecht’s book steps in as a reminder that our liberal stance toward suicide is relatively new, in fact quite radical, and should be unequivocally challenged. Partly an intellectual history and partly a polemic—a gentle one—against suicide, the book fills a hole in the cultural conversation about choosing to end one’s life. Hecht writes, “The arguments against suicide that I intend to revivify in public consciousness assert that suicide is wrong, that it harms the community, that it damages humanity, that it unfairly preempts your future self.”

Read it; it’s good.