Warren to Piketty: ‘Hit Back’

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 9, 2014.

Photograph by Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat from Massachusetts in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 9, 2014.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and best-selling author-economist Thomas Piketty – two players in the nation’s income inequality debate — took the stage in Boston last night to convey a favorite message: The system is rigged in favor of moneyed classes.

“Those who are rich have money to re-write the rules and regulations so they tilt in their favor,” said Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat and former Harvard law professor. “When that starts to happen we get a country that isn’t headed in the right direction.”

Warren might sound like she’s on the campaign trail – railing against Washington with the best of them. Yet she hass repeatedly said she’s not interested in running for president in 2016 and signed a letter urging Hillary Clinton to do so. Still, she uncharacteristically ducked the question when moderator Ryan Grim of The Huffington Post asked her last night. (Instead she said,“I believe we can fight back. I believe we can win.”)

The event was staged at the Old South Meeting House in Boston – best known as a club house for Tea Party activists (the ones from the 1770’s). It was webcast by the liberal group MoveOn.org and sponsored by Patriotic Millionaires, a small group of wealthy individuals who support higher taxes on the rich.

Warren – who dominated the conversation – argued that a common theme links many of the preeminent debates in the country, including on tax code reform, climate change and income inequality. In each case, she says,  one side can hire an army of lobbyists, putting them at an incalculable advantage over regular people.

She blamed part of the problem on the erosion of influence by labor unions, who are among her biggest backers: “Unions helped build the great middle class,” Warren said. “We see rising inequality at a time when union strength has declined.”

Piketty, professor at the Paris School of Economics and author of “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” played less of a role on stage.

His book assembled data intended to show that income inequality has gotten far worse across cultures and centuries. It has come under fire from the Financial Times, accusing him of “cherry-picking” data points that support his thesis. He has responded with a lengthy rebuttal and said last night, “This particular debate is over.”

Warren offered some advice to Piketty on his back-and-forth with critics that was more political than professorial.

The author, she said, should “hit back.”

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