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Thomas Piketty says pandemic is opportunity to address income inequality

Economist Thomas Piketty told Hill.TV that the financial crisis prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic could provide an opportunity for U.S. leaders to address income inequality.

"I think that today after the 2008 financial crisis, but also after this 2020 epidemic crisis, we have to revisit some of our ideologies, some of what we believe is the conventional wisdom at a given point in time and move into a more egalitarian, diplomatic trajectory," said Piketty, a professor at the Paris School of Economics and author of "Capital and Ideology." 

Piketty said the problems created by the pandemic could prompt what he called much-needed reforms.

"I think it should be an opportunity," he said. "I think we should use this opportunity to develop more social state, social policies in general, by which I mean a better income support mechanism, safety net, and better access to education."

He emphasized that the Western world's view that the economy is self-correcting is not necessarily accurate.

"There's nothing natural in the way the economy is organized. It's all a matter of political choices, of ideology," he said. "I think it's important to send a message to working America and to low-wage America that you can have economic justice together with economic prosperity."

Piketty went on to say that the incoming Biden administration would do well to employ populist economic ideas put forth by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), who both sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020.

"I think you need to have a more ambitious policy platform of giving a better chance to more disadvantaged socioeconomic groups," Piketty said. "We're talking about a higher minimum wage, more investment in public universities, more progressive taxation at the top."

Piketty added that the "billionaire tax" proposed by Sanders and Warren was "actually pretty popular if you look at the polls," including among GOP voters.

"I think it will be a big mistake for the Democratic Party leadership to abandon this kind of idea," he said.