The Piketty Problem: or The Robots Are Coming, The Robots Are Coming
by Garth Hallberg
The Reason for Everything, LLC

"Money in the abstract made him feel superior. Actual people with money made him feel awkward and insecure."

Set in the very recent past, this book follows the stories of various people impacted either personally or emotionally by the issue of income inequality following the 2016 Presidential Election. In the quaint, East Coast city of Canaandale, an incoming Trump presidency and the influence of best-selling French economist Thomas Piketty drive enterprising and concerned citizens to action. George Dealy and his wife are dealing with an increasingly hostile marriage made worse by political differences. George owns more than two dozen regional McDonald’s franchises and is preparing to unveil an automated “McDonald’s of the Future” run entirely by robots so as not to have to pay rising worker wages. Meanwhile, Suzanne takes to shoplifting groceries to protest her husband’s beliefs, which leads her to meet a local copywriter on the skids with a similar worldview.

The author refers to this book as a social protest novel, meaning that it is designed to be entertainment but also provide the reader with a pertinent message. Between Steve Harris’s pending divorce and the Dealys’ icy relationship, there is plenty of drama built into this story, but the driving source of conflict is the concept of income inequality and the influence of Piketty’s ideas. Whether it’s the wealthy trying to decide what the poor deserve to make or the younger generation struggling to make a living, the idea of minimum wage and a healthy living wage drive the action from beginning to end more than the titular standoff between the McRobots and the Piketty Brigade. The dynamic cast of characters draws the reader in and presents multiple perspectives to a challenging and necessary debate which is never heavy-handed or boring in the slightest. At times darkly comic but always certainly relevant to modern issues facing Americans, this story succeeds in being both entertaining and thought-provoking.

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