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France's Piketty backs Miliband... not Hollande

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France's Piketty backs Miliband... not Hollande
Thomas Piketty, France's "rock star economist" says the UK would be better off under a government. Photo: AFP
07:59 CEST+02:00
On the eve of the UK election, France's "rock star economist" Thomas Piketty, says the UK would be better off under a Labour government than the Tories, who have only helped to boost inequality over the last five years.

Piketty, recently named one of Time magazine's top 100 most influential people in the world had some advice for Brits heading to the polling booths on Thursday.

The French economist whose book "Capital in the 21st century" became a best-seller in the United States last year believes that when it comes to its place in Europe and the economy then the UK would fare better under Labour's Ed Miliband.

"The Labour party is in a better position than the Conservatives to promote growth, equitable growth and more investment in education and public services and keep Britain in the EU," Piketty told a meeting of the Anglo American Press Association of Paris on Wednesday night.

The economist's book on the dangers of growing inequality thrust him into the international limelight when it was translated into English last year. 

The book forced an international focus on the damaging gap between rich and poor and caught the attention of the public as well as the likes of the US President Barack Obama who has since made tackling inequality his number 1 priority.

Piketty, who has been critical of France's Socialist President François Hollande after initially backing him for the 2012 presidential election, described Conservative party policies in respect of the European Union "as very populist and very dangerous."

The professor at the Paris School of Economics said the Tories had been trying to shift the blame for the UK's problems.

"When you don't manage to solve your domestic social problems its always tempting to blame others, whether foreign immigrant workers, or Brussels or China, Germany. There's always lots of people to blame for your problems, but it's not the right strategy.

Asked whether inequality had risen in Britain under the Tories, Piketty said: "Overall, yes, I would say so."

While Piketty was promoting the idea of a socialist government in the UK, he reserved criticism for France's own left wing administration.

On the third anniversary of Hollande's election to the Elysée, Piketty, who has previously described the president as "a disaster" says the socialists have been givin the impression they have simply been "improvising".

"It's as if the Socialist party has been in opposition for 10 years between 2002 and 2012 and that they never really thought what they would do when in power," said Piketty.

"Over the past three years there's been a lot of stop and go and no clear line in terms of general fiscal policy."

Piketty's main criticisms of Hollande surrounded his decision to initially raise taxes before later lowering them as well as introducing an "incredibly complicated" way to lower corporate taxes.

He agreed the labour market could do with reforming in France, but said it is not to blame for the rise in unemployment in the country.

Piketty said it would be difficult to imagine him supporting Hollande if the incumbent president stands in the 2017 election, but the economist remains pragmatic.

"Let's wait and see. You can always find worse candidates. At election times you have to chose between different options," he said.

Critics of Piketty have tried to deride his work by labelling him a neo-Marxist, but it gained him an audience at the White House  with top economic advisers to the US President.

Piketty used data from the past two centuries across 20 countries to demonstrate how inherited wealth has ensured the dominance of a small class of people and will continue to do so unless action is taken.

He rejects the argument that economic growth in the capitalist system benefits everyone, and advocates a punitive global tax on wealth to address the issue.

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