This webinar presentation by ACEIR researcher Fabio Andres Diaz Pabon draws on a working paper, "Piketty comes to South Africa" that interrogates the renowned French economist's analysis and policy proposals against specificities that are central to understanding the production and reproduction of inequalities in South Africa. The authors reflected on the structure of South African inequality and its changes since 1994 and reviewed a battery of policy interventions that have been implemented to address inequality in the last 25 years.
The paper was authored Diaz Pabon; Murray Leibbrandt, Vimal Ranchhod (Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit, University of Cape Town) & Michael Savage (London School of Economics and Political Science).
One of the most valuable features of "Capital and Ideology", authored by renowned French economist Thomas Piketty, is its concern with the historical legacy of the emergence of different political and economic regimes and how these relate to discourses about fairness and justice. Piketty’s more recent work also aims to enrich the understanding of inequality by acknowledging that the experiences of a few developed nations should not be taken as a template for the general study of inequality dynamics across time and place.
In the South African context, the long shadow cast by centuries of colonialism and various forms of apartheid strongly affirm Piketty’s emphasis on understanding history. But this is both affirmation and critique given the foundational, imbedded impact that the apartheid legacy has had on South African society and its policies since 1994. Piketty is aware that the levels of inequality in South Africa are so high that this is “unknown territory”. Diaz Pabon, Leibbrandt, Ranchhod and Savage map out some of this territory to reveal how these extreme initial wealth and racial inequities inform the reproduction of inequalities in all dimensions and undermine well-intentioned policies. They claim that understanding extractive histories, imbedded wealth inequalities and complex social and political institutions allow us to comprehend and confront some of the reasons why – even with progressive policies, many of which are in line with the proposals from Piketty – government interventions have thus far failed to reduce inequality