Piketty’s Garden of Envy

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Resentment is the one emotion that can last a lifetime and will never let you down. All other emotions are fleeting and unreliable by comparison. I have tried hating someone for years, but found it impossible: hatred fades like the colors of pressed flowers. But resentment! It is the perfect solution to one’s failure in life. And we are all of us failures in some sense or other, thank God, for no one would be as intolerable and the cause of so much resentment as the complete success.

The success of others breeds resentment, especially success in a field in which one would like to succeed oneself. Whenever I read a wonderful passage of prose I experience pleasure, of course, but before long it is commingled with irritation and finally resentment. Why should this fellow be able to put something more elegantly, more wittily, more poetically, more concisely, than I ever could? What did he ever do to deserve his talent? Fortunate it is indeed for writers in English that Dickens, for example, was possessed of so many and such serious faults, for otherwise the self-evident and transcendent genius of some passages would paralyze the writers and sap their will to put pen to paper, or finger to keyboard.

Enough, as they say in Russian novels, of philosophy. Let us descend from the rarefied atmosphere of abstraction to the sordid reality of an actual phenomenon, in this case the phenomenal success of the book by the French economist, Thomas Piketty, called Capital in the Twenty-First Century. It is selling so fast that the printing presses cannot keep up with demand. It is not to be had in the bookshops, even (as Lane, Algernon’s butler in The Importance of Being Earnest, put it) for ready money.

This is truly astonishing, for Thomas Piketty is no Dan Brown, purveying overtly superstitious twaddle in execrable prose to the post-religiously credulous. No: his book is hundreds of pages long and filled with arcane data, as we must now call facts. Fortunately, I had bought a copy of Piketty’s book when it first came out in France, and I have hopes, in view of its swift ascent to the status of international icon, that my original edition will in due course come to be regarded as a holy relic with healing properties above price.

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