Seven years in the past a French economist named Thomas Piketty printed a e-book entitled Capital within the Twenty-First Century. It was 700 pages lengthy and featured in-depth empirical evaluation of varied historic tax techniques, amounting to a forensic argument in opposition to widening inequality. You wouldn’t say that it spelled worldwide bestseller, and but it has offered 2.5 million copies thus far.

Hailed as a contemporary successor to Karl Marx’s monumental Capital, it rejuvenated radical leftwing critiques of capitalism and earned Piketty (it rhymes with spaghetti) the epithet of “rock star” economist. Seldom has a media cliche been extra deceptive.

With Yanis Varoufakis, the brooding, motorbike-riding former Greek finance minister, the time period “rock star” would possibly serve a shorthand descriptive goal. However once I meet Piketty in Paris, he appears to be like like George Osborne’s barely fleshier twin brother (they have been born two weeks aside in 1971). What’s extra, his most popular pastime is to bury himself in comparative assessments of incremental capital returns in late 19th-century economies. It’s not precisely throwing televisions out of resort home windows.

In a single respect, nonetheless, there is a component of hazard about Piketty that has lately come again to hang-out him. In November final 12 months he was selling his newest e-book Capital and Ideology, about which I’ve come to interview him, on the College of Toulouse when he was all of a sudden taken unexpectedly. Throughout a question-and-answer session, he was requested by a feminine pupil a few grievance of home violence filed in opposition to him in 2009 by his former companion, Aurélie Filippetti, then a Socialist celebration MP, later to develop into minister for tradition.

Because of an settlement brokered by the Socialist celebration on the time, Piketty apologised for his actions and Filippetti shortly dropped the costs. Though the unique allegations surfaced within the British press in 2014, the small print of the incident had by no means been publicly mentioned. So Piketty was unprepared when the coed requested him what he, as somebody who had admitted to beating his ex-girlfriend, thought of showing on the college simply three days earlier than a march in opposition to violence in direction of ladies.

The economist didn’t reply along with his customary eloquence. He appeared ruffled and defensive, informing his inquisitor that hers was an “indecent” query and that the case was closed a very long time in the past. Then he went additional and stated that the connection the coed referred to was with somebody (he didn’t point out Filippetti’s title) who “was extraordinarily violent in direction of my daughters”.

“I put her out of my house,” he informed the shocked viewers. “I pushed her exterior, which I remorse, however I can guarantee you that given the behaviour in direction of my daughters, I believe that lots of people can be rather more het up than that.”

He defined that Filippetti fell via a half-open door however that his actions, whereas regrettable, didn’t stop her from going to work.

Shortly afterwards Filippetti’s lawyer served a writ for defamation, asking for damages and the publication of the ruling within the media of her selection. This newest episode had not been reported within the British press, so I arrived on the Paris College of Economics – France’s reply to the LSE which Piketty helped to arrange – blind to the Toulouse outburst.

As an alternative, our dialogue is to be targeted on the English translation of his newest tome, which weighs in at a forbidding 1,093 pages.

Piketty’s fifth-floor workplace is closely book-lined and a big part of the show is made up of the assorted editions and translations of his personal works. His efforts have made him a rich man. However he laments the truth that he wasn’t in a position to pay extra tax on the appreciable royalties he’s accrued. “I’d have favored to have paid 90 to 95% in tax,” he says, somewhat forlornly. “I didn’t want that cash.”

Nor has he wished the large sums provided to him by hedge funds, who’ve requested him to return and lecture them on the worrying excesses of capitalism (as in the event that they didn’t know already). At any time when he turns such affords down, he says, the businesses simply double or triple the charge, however he at all times says no.

“We’re getting increasingly used to a scenario by which personal cash should purchase every thing, from political events to media to people,” he says, noting that the very individuals who provide a whole lot of 1000’s of euros for an hour-long lecture are additionally those that, within the title of “financial rationality”, refuse to pay their cleaners a residing wage.

The central thesis of his earlier e-book was that non-public wealth was destined to outstrip financial progress, which means that, with out progressive taxation, the wealthy have been certain to get richer and richer, leaving the remainder of society ever additional behind. A few of his assumptions and conclusions had their critics, however the high quality of writing and breadth of imaginative and prescient was virtually universally admired.

Piketty is just not a Marxist, although it’s unfaithful, as is usually stated, that he has by no means learn Capital. Whereas Marx believed that the historical past of society is the historical past of sophistication struggles, Piketty argues that human progress is the product of the wrestle for equality and schooling by which ideology performs an instrumental function. “What I imply,” he says, explaining his variations with Marx, “is that your class place is just not sufficient to find out your view of what’s the very best system of property, schooling, taxation. We’d like concepts and ideologies and we have to take them severely.”

The issue with many leftwing concepts is that they’ve usually been fantastic in principle and somewhat a letdown in observe. Piketty notes that not solely was Soviet communism a catastrophe in itself, but it surely additionally undermined the enchantment of leftwing thought generally. Nearly its solely success, he suggests, was in serving to to include capitalism. He attributes the autumn of the Soviet Union to the unleashing of “hypercapitalism” throughout the globe, although in fact that improvement had already been beneath approach for a decade earlier than the united states’s demise.

The purpose that he repeatedly comes again to is that between 1950 and 1980 practically all western democracies had excessive ranges of taxation, and but it was a interval of financial progress. Whereas this can be true, current makes an attempt to impose excessive tax charges haven’t loved success.

One notable failure was Francois Hollande’s imposition of a 75% supertax in France, which was stated to have led to falling tax revenues, capital flight and a mind drain earlier than being withdrawn. “They didn’t actually strive it,” he says with a dismissive Gallic shrug.

Briefly an financial adviser to Labour within the UK, Piketty and the celebration parted firm because of what he noticed as its weak EU referendum marketing campaign. “I can perceive why Corbyn was not proud of the present approach the European Union is organised, however I’d have most popular him to counsel one thing else,” he says. “He didn’t actually suggest any various approach of organising Europe or, for that matter, the world financial system.” To be truthful, financial literacy is a capability for which few trendy politicians are famend. In any case, as Piketty himself argues, ideology trumps economics.

Identification politics have electrified the left in a approach that redistributive coverage hasn’t fairly managed to do. So the place does that depart Piketty, not only a white heterosexual privileged male, who’s subsequently seen by a rising constituency on the left as a part of the issue, however somebody who has truly been accused of home violence?

“All I can say about what you simply referred to is that if individuals knew the content material of the info they’d have a really totally different view about this,” he says obliquely, refusing to enlarge, and determinedly not repeating the story he informed in Toulouse.

Talking extra usually, he says that it makes excellent sense that individuals are very delicate about these points. “However I believe they’re so vital that we must be very critical in regards to the content material of the instances we’re referring to.” The French on-line journal Mediapart took his case very severely and final month printed a protracted investigation, together with the unique settlement with Filippetti signed by Piketty, by which he states: “I wish to specific my profound regrets for having misplaced my calm on a number of events throughout our relationship and to have made you undergo violence, and I apologise for that.”

In a press release to the journal, Piketty stated that he and Filippetti had been in a “pathological relationship” by which, he stated, Filippetti was “in a state of sturdy aggressiveness in direction of my daughters and in direction of herself”. He stated he profoundly regrets that he was not in a position to reply “with as a lot distance as I’d have prefer to”.

In her response, Filippetti, who believes the affair has prompted French society to see her as mad, informed the journal: “It’s a typical method for dirtying the one who is a sufferer.”

There are some darkish ironies on this dispute that surrounds the publication of a e-book in regards to the function of ideology in shaping the world. We reside now in period by which actions comparable to #MeToo can acquire international momentum virtually in a single day and a 280-character tweet can have much more ideological energy than a 1,100-page e-book.

Whereas recognising the various totally different sorts of inequalities, together with these regarding gender and race, Piketty needs to return the dialog to basic points about wealth redistribution.

“I believe the fitting response to identification politics,” he says, “is to place much more emphasis on financial justice.” Nobody might accuse Piketty of stinting on that emphasis, however a shadow of doubt has been forged over if not his work, then his character. That will but show an even bigger drawback for an economist than it tends to be for rock stars.