As income inequality emerges as a key issue in the early stages of the 2016 presidential election, French economist Thomas Piketty says he isn't convinced by Republicans' recent overtures on the matter.
With an increasing number of Americans concerned about wealth distribution in America, Republicans like former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz have pivoted to a new economic message focused on inequality.
“The opportunity gap is the defining issue of our time,” Bush said in a speech last month. “More Americans are stuck at their income levels than ever before. It’s very hard for people to go from the bottom rungs of the economy to the top or even the middle. This should alarm you. It has alarmed me.”
Piketty, however, is skeptical. In an interview with MSNBC's Krystal Ball posted Wednesday, the author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century said Bush isn't actually proposing policies that will help close the wage gap.
“From what I can see, he doesn’t want to invest more resources into education, he just wants more competition," Piketty said when asked about Bush's proposed school reforms. "There's limited evidence that this is working. And I think most of all what we need is to put more public resources into the education system. Again, if you look at the kind of school, of high school, of community college that middle social groups in America have access to, this has nothing to do with the very top universities and the very top schools that some other groups have access to."
Piketty continued: “If we want to have more growth in the future and more equitable growth in the future, we need to put more resources in the education available to the bottom 50 percent or bottom 80 percent of America. So it's not enough just say it, as Jeb Bush seems to be saying, but you need to act on it, and for this you need to invest resources."
Piketty's nearly 700-page tome on inequality became an unlikely phenomenon last year, selling 1.5 million copies as of this January. In the book, Piketty argues that the natural tendency of capitalism is to trend toward inequality. His proposed solution is a global tax on wealth to prevent society from returning to the economic conditions of the 18th and 19th centuries.
In the MSNBC interview, the economist criticized Republicans for blaming inequality on the "skills gap," saying lawmakers need to focus on increasing wages, revising tax policy and investing in public services, in addition to improving and expanding access to education.
“There’s a lot of hypocrisy in this conservative rhetoric about the skill gap and education gap,” Piketty said. “If they are really serious about the skill gap and the education gap, then they cannot at the same time cut tax on the rich."
Watch the full interview above.