Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013) Thomas Piketty

Capital in the Twenty-First CenturyLet’s hear it for r/g>1 ! the most important and least complicated of the equations Piketty uses to roll out an immense amount of data on income, wealth, and taxation over a couple of centuries in the West (including Japan). No doubt about it Piketty and his associates have the data. Much of the book demonstrates the huge long term labor, methodological and practical difficulties of getting the data. Though not short on the insider economist talk, the book is very well argued for the average educated reader. If r= return on capital and g= economic growth and r is more than g over any period of time inequality will result in some form or fashion. Much is made of his more stylistic divergence from the blizzard of data and graphs– his incorporation of the 19th century literature of the lost landed aristocrats in Austen and Balzac novels as a reference for the argument. Still, though it is hardly in the category of a “good read.” Brilliant fresh analysis and powerfully evocative writing on global inequality is not rare. David Harvey and Vijay Prashad most recently come to mind as doing quite a lot with the data that we can all find laying around. But Piketty nails it down in a fashion that can’t be avoided by the economists, pundits and the rest of the political class with liberal temperaments and ideals but without certainty upon which to base a set of policy convictions. Piketty is aimed to push liberals off the fence on tax questions– immediate and practical steps to institute progressivity as a base measure — and the more utopian global wealth tax idea he raises with out discussion of mechanism.

 

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