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Capital in the Twenty-First Century [Hardcover]

Thomas Piketty , Arthur Goldhammer
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Book Description

March 10 2014

What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality.

Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have allowed us to avoid inequalities on the apocalyptic scale predicted by Karl Marx. But we have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality as much as we thought in the optimistic decades following World War II. The main driver of inequality--the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth--today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. But economic trends are not acts of God. Political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past, Piketty says, and may do so again.

A work of extraordinary ambition, originality, and rigor, Capital in the Twenty-First Century reorients our understanding of economic history and confronts us with sobering lessons for today.

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A seminal book on the economic and social evolution of the planet… A masterpiece. (Emmanuel Todd Marianne)

The book of the season. (Telerama)

Outstanding… A political and theoretical bulldozer. (Mediapart)

An explosive argument. (Liberation)

In this magisterial work, Thomas Piketty has performed a great service to the academy and to the public. He has written a pioneering book that is at once thoughtful, measured, and provocative. The force of his case rests not on a diatribe or a political agenda, but on carefully collected and analyzed data and reasoned thought. The book should have a major impact on our discussions of contemporary inequality and its meaning for our democratic institutions and ideals. I can only marvel at Piketty’s discipline and rigor in researching and writing it. (Rakesh Khurana, Harvard Business School)

This book is not only the definitive account of the historical evolution of inequality in advanced economies, it is also a magisterial treatise on capitalism’s inherent dynamics. Piketty ends his book with a ringing call for the global taxation of capital. Whether or not you agree with him on the solution, this book presents a stark challenge for those who would like to save capitalism from itself. (Dani Rodrik, Institute for Advanced Study)

Anyone remotely interested in economics needs to read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. (Matthew Yglesias Slate 2014-02-10)

The book aims to revolutionize the way people think about the economic history of the past two centuries. It may well manage the feat…It is, first and foremost, a very detailed look at 200 years’ worth of data on the distribution of income and wealth across the rich world (with some figures for large emerging markets also included). This mountain of data allows Piketty to tell a simple and compelling story…The database on which the book is built is formidable, and it is difficult to dispute his call for a new perspective on the modern economic era, whether or not one agrees with his policy recommendations… We are all used to sneering at communism because of its manifest failure to deliver the sustained rates of growth managed by market economies. But Marx’s original critique of capitalism was not that it made for lousy growth rates. It was that a rising concentration of wealth couldn’t be sustained politically. Ultimately, those of us who would like to preserve the market system need to grapple with that sort of dynamic, in the context of the worrying numbers on inequality that Piketty presents. (The Economist 2014-01-09)

Piketty, a prominent economist, explains the tendency in mature societies for wealth to concentrate in a few hands. (Amy Merrick New Yorker 2014-02-06)

Defies left and right orthodoxy by arguing that worsening inequality is an inevitable outcome of free market capitalism…[It] suggests that traditional liberal government policies on spending, taxation and regulation will fail to diminish inequality…Without what [Piketty] acknowledges is a politically unrealistic global wealth tax, he sees the United States and the developed world on a path toward a degree of inequality that will reach levels likely to cause severe social disruption. Final judgment on Piketty’s work will come with time--a problem in and of itself, because if he is right, inequality will worsen, making it all the more difficult to take preemptive action. (Thomas B. Edsall New York Times 2014-01-28)

It is a great work, a fearsome beast of analysis stuffed with an awesome amount of empirical data, and will surely be a landmark study in economics. (The Week 2014-02-20)

Groundbreaking…The usefulness of economics is determined by the quality of data at our disposal. Piketty’s new volume offers a fresh perspective and a wealth of newly compiled data that will go a long way in helping us understand how capitalism actually works. (Christopher Matthews 2014-02-26)

A sweeping account of rising inequality…Eventually, Piketty says, we could see the reemergence of a world familiar to nineteenth-century Europeans; he cites the novels of Austen and Balzac. In this ‘patrimonial society,’ a small group of wealthy rentiers lives lavishly on the fruits of its inherited wealth, and the rest struggle to keep up…The proper role of public intellectuals is to question accepted dogmas, conceive of new methods of analysis, and expand the terms of public debate. Capital in the Twenty-first Century does all these things…Piketty has written a book that nobody interested in a defining issue of our era can afford to ignore. (John Cassidy New Yorker 2014-03-31)

It seems safe to say that Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the magnum opus of the French economist Thomas Piketty, will be the most important economics book of the year--and maybe of the decade. Piketty, arguably the world’s leading expert on income and wealth inequality, does more than document the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small economic elite. He also makes a powerful case that we’re on the way back to ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ in which the commanding heights of the economy are dominated not just by wealth, but also by inherited wealth, in which birth matters more than effort and talent. (Paul Krugman New York Times 2014-03-23)

A landmark book…which brings a ton of data to bear in reaching the commonsensical conclusion that inequality has to do with more than just blind market forces at work. (George Packer New Yorker blog 2014-03-25)

Bracing…Piketty provides a fresh and sweeping analysis of the world’s economic history that puts into question many of our core beliefs about the organization of market economies. His most startling news is that the belief that inequality will eventually stabilize and subside on its own, a long-held tenet of free market capitalism, is wrong. Rather, the economic forces concentrating more and more wealth into the hands of the fortunate few are almost sure to prevail for a very long time. (Eduardo Porter New York Times 2014-03-11)

Piketty’s new book is an important contribution to understanding what we need to do to produce more growth, wider economic opportunity and greater social stability. (David Cay Johnston Al Jazeera America 2014-03-23)

The blockbuster economics book of the season, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, argues that the great equalizing decades following World War II, which brought on the rise of the middle class in the United States, were but a historical anomaly. Armed with centuries of data, Piketty says the rich are going to continue to gobble up a greater share of income, and our current system will do nothing to reverse that trend. (Shaila Dewan New York Times Magazine 2014-03-30)

Rarely does a book come along…that completely alters the paradigm through which we frame our worldview. Thomas Piketty’s magisterial study of the structure of capitalism since the 18th century, Capital in the 21st Century, is such a book…As leaders from Pope Francis to Barack Obama have proclaimed, growing inequality is the defining issue of our time. Much indeterminate discussion has swirled around its key causes, from job-displacing technologies to wage-deflating outsourcing of jobs. Capital in the 21st Century clears up all the confused thinking and presents us with the most compelling analysis to date of the key dynamic that drives ever-increasing inequality. This book is more than a must read. It is a manual for action that provides a fresh framework for the new politics of the 21st Century. (Nathan Gardels The WorldPost 2014-03-24)

[Piketty’s] thesis is simple. The growing concentration of capital in fewer hands has enabled its owners to keep it relatively scarce and thus valuable…Continuing high inequality is socially and economically destabilizing, though it need not lead to Marx’s apocalypse. So what we need is another bout of social democracy especially in the form of progressive taxation. You many think that it doesn’t require 600 pages to get this message across. This would be wrong. The strength of Piketty’s book is his close attention to the different sources of inequality, the massive documentation underpinning his history and conclusions, and his impressive culls from sociology and literature, which exhibit the richness of ‘political economy’ compared to its thin mathematical successor that has attained such prominence…Piketty’s book is a timely intervention in the current debate about inequality and its causes. (Robert Skidelsky Prospect 2014-04-01)

Over the last decade or so, economist Thomas Piketty has made his name central to serious discussions of inequality…Piketty expands upon his empirical work of the last 10 years, while also setting forth a political theory of inequality. This last element of the book gives special attention to tax policy and makes some provocative suggestions--new and higher taxes on the very rich. (Joseph Thorndike Forbes 2014-03-26)

It’s a brilliant, surprisingly readable work that synthesizes a staggering amount of careful research to make the case that income inequality is no accident. Indeed, Piketty argues that it is a feature of capitalism itself--unless governments take action to rein in capitalism’s excesses…But the value of Piketty’s work is that it shows that capitalism’s postwar heyday--in which incomes at the bottom and the top actually converged--was a historical anomaly. Piketty’s analysis of the last two centuries makes the case that capital in its natural state does not tend to spread out or trickle down, but to concentrate in the hands of a few…He has starkly and convincingly outlined the stakes for future generations. Either we’ll have a new birth of reformed capitalism…or we’ll have wealth concentration on such a colossal scale that it will threaten the democratic order. (Ryan Cooper The Week 2014-03-25)

Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the 21st Century, painstakingly details the dynamics of wealth and income inequality throughout the last two centuries, and offers a somewhat grim picture of the future of economic inequality. Along the way, Piketty also offers his theory of the cause of exploding executive pay and how we can successfully combat this destructive trend. (Matt Bruenig The Week 2014-03-20)

In Capital in the Twenty-first Century, Piketty sums up his research, tracing the history and pattern of economic inequality across a number of countries from the eighteenth century to the present, analyzing its causes, and evaluating some policy fixes. Spanning nearly 700 densely packed pages, it’s a big book in more than one sense of the word. Clearly written, ambitious in scope, rooted in economics but drawing on insights from related fields like history and sociology, Piketty’s Capital resembles nothing so much as an old-fashioned work of political economy by the likes of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, or John Maynard Keynes. But what is particularly exciting about this book is that, due to advances in technology, Piketty is able to draw on data that not only spans a substantially longer historical time frame, but is also necessarily more complete and consistent than the records earlier theorists were forced to rely on. As a result, his analysis is significantly more comprehensive than those of his predecessors--and easily as persuasive…Capital is a consistently engrossing read, encompassing topics including the stunning comeback that inherited wealth has made in today’s advanced economies, the dubiousness of the economic theory that a worker’s wage is equal to his or her marginal productivity, the moral insidiousness of meritocratic justifications of inequality, and more. But the book’s major strength lies in Piketty’s ability to see the big picture. His original and rigorously well-documented insights into the deep structures of capitalism show us how the dynamics of capital accumulation have played out historically over the past three centuries, and how they’re likely to develop in the century to come…America’s twenty-first-century inequality crisis is, if anything, even more daunting and complex than the one we experienced a century ago. But as Piketty reminds us, the solutions to this problem are political, and they lie within our grasp. Should Americans choose to deploy those solutions, not only would we be doing the right thing, we’d be living up to our deepest traditions and most cherished ideals.” (Kathleen Geier Washington Monthly 2014-03-01)

The most eagerly anticipated book on economics in many years. (Toby Sanger Globe and Mail 2014-03-11)

Though an heir to Tocqueville’s tradition of analytic history, Thomas Piketty has a message that could not be more different: Unless we act, inequality will grow much worse, eventually making a mockery of our democratic institutions. With wealth more and more concentrated, countries racing to cut taxes on capital, and inheritance coming to rival entrepreneurship as a source of riches, a new patrimonial elite may prove as inevitable as Tocqueville once believed democratic equality was. This forecast is based not on speculation but on facts assembled through prodigious research…Private wealth has reached new highs relative to national income and is approaching levels of concentration not seen since before 1929…Piketty is rightly pessimistic about an immediate response. The influence of the wealthy on democratic politics and on how we think about merit and reward presents formidable obstacles…Perhaps with this magisterial book, the troubling realities Piketty unearths will become more visible and the rationalizations of the privileged that sustain them less dominant. Like Tocqueville, Piketty has given us a new image of ourselves. This time, it’s one we should resist, not welcome. (Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson American Prospect 2014-03-01)

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is written in the tradition of great economic texts… Piketty and his colleagues have spent recent years putting together a World Top Incomes Database, their detailed investigation into income in countries around the globe, spanning several decades…Informed by this historical, cross-country data, Piketty evaluates--and rejects--a number of generally accepted conclusions in economic thought, while being careful to note the limitations of inevitably “imperfect and incomplete” sources. The main finding of his investigation is that capital still matters…This book is significant for its findings, as well as for how Piketty arrives at them. It’s easy--and fun--to argue about ideas. It is much more difficult to argue about facts. Facts are what Piketty gives us, while pressing the reader to engage in the journey of sorting through their implications. (Heather Boushey American Prospect 2014-03-01)

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a monumental book that will influence economic analysis (and perhaps policymaking) in the years to come. In the way it is written and the importance of the questions it asks, it is a book the classic authors of economics could have written if they lived today and had access to the vast empirical material Piketty and his colleagues collected…In a short review, it is impossible to do even partial justice to the wealth of information, data, analysis, and discussion contained in this book of almost 700 pages. Piketty has returned economics to the classical roots where it seeks to understand the ‘laws of motion’ of capitalism. He has re-emphasized the distinction between ‘unearned’ and ‘earned’ income that had been tucked away for so long under misleading terminologies of ‘human capital,’ ‘economic agents,’ and ‘factors of production.’ Labor and capital—those who have to work for a living and those who live from property--people in flesh--are squarely back in economics via this great book. (Branko Milanovic American Prospect 2014-03-01)

[An] enormously important book. (Doug Henwood Bookforum 2014-04-01)

How does a rigorous, seven-hundred page economic history become a lionized hit? Through the canny voice of professor Thomas Piketty, and his demystification of inherited wealth, Karl Marx’s true legacy, and what we mean when we talk about monetary ‘growth’ and ‘inequality.’ (Barnes and Noble Review 2014-03-26)

The big questions that concerned Mill, Marx and Smith are now rearing their heads afresh…Thomas Piketty--who spent long years, during which the mainstream neglected inequality, mapping the distribution of income--is making waves with Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Nodding at Marx, that title helps explain the attention, but his decidedly classical emphasis on historical dynamics in determining who gets what resonates in a world where an increasing proportion of citizens are feeling fleeced by the elite. (The Guardian 2014-04-03)

The most remarkable work of economics in recent years, if not decades…[It] has caused an intellectual sensation on both sides of the Atlantic…His range is immense. And his open, fluent style will guarantee him a wide readership. In contrast to much of what passes for orthodox economics, he is engaged with the problems of the real world…The discipline of economics, Piketty argues, remains trapped in a juvenile passion for mathematics, divorced from history and its sister social sciences. His work aims to change that. (Nick Pearce New Statesman 2014-03-28)

In its magisterial sweep and ambition, Piketty’s latest work, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, is clearly modeled after Marx’s Das Kapital. But where Marx’s research was spotty, Piketty’s is prodigious. And where Marx foresaw capitalism’s collapse leading to a utopian proletariat paradise, Piketty sees a future of slow growth and Gilded Age disparities in which the wealthy--owners of capital--capture a steadily larger share of global wealth and income…Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is an intellectual tour de force, a triumph of economic history over the theoretical, mathematical modeling that has come to dominate the economics profession in recent years. Piketty offers a timely and well-reasoned reminder that there is nothing inevitable about the dominance of human capital over financial capital, and that there is inherent in the dynamics of capitalism a natural and destabilizing tendency toward inequality of income, wealth and opportunity. (Steven Pearlstein Washington Post 2014-03-28)

Piketty’s ground-breaking work on the historical evolution of income distribution is impressive, but he covers many other areas, including the erosion of meritocracy by inherited wealth, public debt, education, health and taxation. He also proposes challenging ideas for funding the social state in the 21st century…Capital in the Twenty-First Century will be embraced by progressives and rejected by conservatives wary of change. But, if those conservatives who support a meritocracy are convinced, it could be a catalyst for reform. This book is challenging, but one of the best economic books in decades. (Paul Sweeney Irish Times 2014-03-28)

Drawing on hundreds of years of economic data (some of which has only recently become available to researchers) Piketty reaches a simple but disturbing conclusion: In the long run, the return on capital tends to be greater than the growth rate of the economies in which that capital is located. What this means is that in a modern market economy the increasing concentration of wealth in the hands of the already-rich is as natural as water flowing downhill, and can only be ameliorated by powerful political intervention, in the form of wealth redistribution via taxes, and to a lesser extent laws that systematically protect labor from capital…Readers can already guess the dire conclusion that flows from combining Piketty’s theory with the plausible assumption that unregulated wealth leads to plutocracy: If the only way to avoid plutocracy would be to employ political processes that the plutocrats themselves will eventually buy lock, stock and barrel, then the only way to avoid being ruled by the Lords of Capital is to become one of them. (Paul Campos Salon 2014-04-02)

French economist Thomas Piketty has written an extraordinarily important book. Open-minded readers will surely find themselves unable to ignore the evidence and arguments he has brought to bear…In its scale and sweep it brings us back to the founders of political economy…The result is a work of vast historical scope, grounded in exhaustive fact-based research, and suffused with literary references. It is both normative and political. Piketty rejects theorizing ungrounded in data…The book is built on a 15-year program of empirical research conducted in conjunction with other scholars. Its result is a transformation of what we know about the evolution of income and wealth (which he calls capital) over the past three centuries in leading high-income countries. That makes it an enthralling economic, social and political history. (Martin Wolf Financial Times 2014-04-15)

About as close to a blockbuster as there is in the world of economic literature--easily the most discussed book of its genre in years. The central premise is provocative and profoundly bleak…Piketty challenges one of the underpinnings of modern democracies--namely, that growth and productivity make each generation better off than the previous one. (Barrie McKenna Globe and Mail 2014-04-06)

Piketty has unearthed the history of income distribution for at least the past hundred years in every major capitalist nation. It makes for fascinating, grim and alarming reading…Piketty’s book provides a valuable explanatory context for America’s economic woes…Piketty gives us the most important work of economics since John Maynard Keynes’s General Theory. (Harold Meyerson Washington Post 2014-04-02)

Stands a fair chance of becoming the most influential work of economics yet published in our young century. It is the most important study of inequality in over fifty years…Although the contours of Piketty’s history confirm what economic historians already know, his anatomizing of the 1 percent’s fortunes over centuries is a revelation. When joined to his magisterial command of the source material and his gift for synthesis, they disclose a history not of steady economic expansion but of stops and starts, with room for sudden departures from seemingly unbreakable patterns. In turn, he links this history to economic theory, demonstrating that there is no inherent drive in markets toward income equality. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. (Timothy Shenk The Nation 2014-04-14)

[Piketty] is just about to emerge as the most important thinker of his generation…He makes his case in a clear and rigorous manner that debunks everything that capitalists believe about the ethical status of making money…He demonstrates that there is no reason to believe that capitalism can ever solve the problem of inequality, which he insists is getting worse rather than better. From the banking crisis of 2008 to the Occupy movement of 2011, this much has been intuited by ordinary people. The singular significance of his book is that it proves ‘scientifically’ that this intuition is correct. This is why his book has crossed over into the mainstream--it says what many people have already been thinking…Unlike many economists he insists that economic thinking cannot be separated from history or politics…As poverty increases across the globe, everyone is being forced to listen to Piketty with great attention. But although his diagnosis is accurate and compelling, it is hard, almost impossible, to imagine that the cure he proposes--tax and more tax--will ever be implemented in a world where, from Beijing to Moscow to Washington, money, and those who have more of it than anyone else, still calls the shots. (Andrew Hussey The Observer 2014-04-13)

After receiving widespread attention in his native France, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century has received even greater attention on this side of the Atlantic, and deservedly so. It offers a stark and depressing picture for those who believe that some combination of democratic politics and economic growth can protect us from rampant inequality. (Kenneth Scheve and David Stasavage Washington Post blog 2014-04-07)

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century is the most important economics book of the year, if not the decade…Capital in the 21st Century essentially takes the existing debate on income inequality and supercharges it. It does so by asserting that in the long run the economic inequality that matters won’t be the gap between people who earn high salaries and those who earn low ones, it will be the gap between people who inherit large sums of money and those who don’t. (Matthew Yglesias Vox 2014-04-08)

Piketty has looked at centuries of tax archives to formulate a theory of capitalism that is evidence-based and rigorously researched, but also attempts to answer the most basic questions in economic theory. His paradigm-shifting thesis is, at its most basic, that late-stage capitalist economies foster inequality and create an ever-widening gap between rich and poor. These ideas feel intuitive and elegant, and Piketty’s emphasis on data-based analysis lend even his most ambitious claims great credibility. Capital in the Twenty-First Century is already being hailed as a seminal work of economic thought, and with very good reason. (Thomas Flynn Daily Beast 2014-04-22)

It proves, irrefutably and clearly, what we’ve all suspected for some time now--the rich ARE getting richer compared to everyone else, and their wealth isn’t trickling down. In fact, it’s trickling up…And as Piketty’s book makes so uncomfortably clear, it’s likely to get worse before it gets better…It’s going to be remembered as the economic tome of our era. Basically, Piketty has finally put to death, with data, the fallacies of trickle down economics and the Laffer curve, as well as the increasingly fantastical notion that we can all just bootstrap our way to the Forbes 400 list…We can only hope that the politicians crafting today’s economic programs will take this book to heart. (Rana Foroohar Time online 2014-04-23)

Magisterial…Piketty provides a sweeping, data-driven narrative about inequality trends in the United States and other Western economies over the past century or more, identifies a worrisome increase in income and wealth concentration in a small percentage of the population since 1980, and warns that this trend won’t likely correct itself…Piketty is not optimistic that the forces of greater income and wealth inequality will abate on their own, but he is not an economic determinist. The problem, however, is that countering those forces requires public policies and institutions more like those of the era of shared prosperity than those of today. (Chad Stone U.S. News & World Report online 2014-04-18)

Instantly influential…[Its] euphoric reception is richly merited…[Piketty’s] chief intellectual accomplishment is to show how the basic forces of capitalism tend inevitably toward an ever-greater accumulation of wealth at the tip of the pyramid…Over the past couple decades, we have started to realize that capitalism is no longer delivering for the vast majority of people in most Western democracies. The middle class is being hollowed out, even as fortunes continue to grow at the very top. Piketty has now delivered the most empirically grounded, intellectually coherent explanation of what is going on…His masterwork…That’s why the most successful societies of the 21st century will be the ones whose plutocrats read Piketty and help come up with the political answers to the economic forces he so powerfully describes. Piketty shows that the economics of the postwar era--when the West enjoyed strong, widely-shared growth--was a historical exception. For our Western democracies, it was also a political necessity. Capitalism is facing an existential challenge; smart plutocrats will be part of the solution. (Chrystia Freeland POLITICO Magazine 2014-04-01)

Piketty, whose previous work we are indebted to for providing statistical verification that the top 1 percent of the population possesses a outsize percentage of wealth, has written a magisterial book about the ever-increasing inequality. A comprehensive overview of Capital’s abundance of historical and analytical data would be impossible here. (Here’s a microreview of Piketty: Read it)…Piketty’s genius lies in proving that inequality is growing and potentially threatens widespread political instability…Piketty has written a trenchant critique of our current economic system. (Michael Washburn Boston Globe 2014-04-19)

Magnificent…Even though it is a work more concerned with the past 200 years, it’s no coincidence that the full title of Piketty’s book is Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Its ambition is to shape debates about the next two centuries, not the past two. And in that it may succeed. (Christopher Croke The Australian 2014-04-19)

Magisterial…Piketty’s Capital feels very much like a Category 4 hurricane that hasn’t yet made landfall…Piketty draws on a vast store of historical data to argue that the broad dissemination of wealth that occurred during the decades following World War I was not, as economists then mistakenly believed, a natural state of capitalist equilibrium, but rather a halcyon interval between Belle Époque inequality and the rising inequality of our own era…Piketty’s most provocative argument is that the discrepancy between the high returns to capital and much more modest overall economic growth--briefly annulled during the mid-century--ensures that the gulf between the rich (who profit from capital investments) and the middle class (who depend chiefly on income from labor) will only continue to grow…The best reason to raise tax rates is not to punish the rich, of course, but to raise the revenue which the United States needs to invest in infrastructure and research, not to mention to pay for Social Security and health care. That investment gap poses a clear and present danger to American global economic leadership. Rising inequality exacerbates the problem by sapping the collective political will needed to address the problem. (James Traub Foreign Policy online 2014-04-11)

Monumental…[Piketty] documents a sharp increase in such inequality over the last 25 years, not only in the United States, but also in Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, China, India, Indonesia and South Africa, with people with the highest incomes far outstripping the rest of society. The book is impressive in its wealth of information. (Robert J. Shiller New York Times 2014-04-12)

[A] magnificent, sweeping meditation on inequality…The big idea of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that we haven’t just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we’re also on a path back to ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties…Piketty has written a truly superb book. It’s a work that melds grand historical sweep—when was the last time you heard an economist invoke Jane Austen and Balzac?--with painstaking data analysis…A tour de force of economic modeling, an approach that integrates the analysis of economic growth with that of the distribution of income and wealth. This is a book that will change both the way we think about society and the way we do economics…Capital in the Twenty-First Century is, as I hope I’ve made clear, an awesome work. At a time when the concentration of wealth and income in the hands of a few has resurfaced as a central political issue, Piketty doesn’t just offer invaluable documentation of what is happening, with unmatched historical depth. He also offers what amounts to a unified field theory of inequality, one that integrates economic growth, the distribution of income between capital and labor, and the distribution of wealth and income among individuals into a single frame…Capital in the Twenty-First Century makes it clear that public policy can make an enormous difference, that even if the underlying economic conditions point toward extreme inequality, what Piketty calls a drift toward oligarchy’ can be halted and even reversed if the body politic so chooses…His masterwork…Sometimes it seems as if a substantial part of our political class is actively working to restore Piketty’s patrimonial capitalism. And if you look at the sources of political donations, many of which come from wealthy families, this possibility is a lot less outlandish than it might seem…[A] masterly diagnosis of where we are and where we’re heading…Capital in the Twenty-First Century is an extremely important book on all fronts. Piketty has transformed our economic discourse; we’ll never talk about wealth and inequality the same way we used to. (Paul Krugman New York Review of Books 2014-05-08)

This is a serious book…Piketty’s main point, and his new and powerful contribution to an old topic: as long as the rate of return exceeds the rate of growth, the income and wealth of the rich will grow faster than the typical income from work. (There seems to be no offsetting tendency for the aggregate share of capital to shrink; the tendency may be slightly in the opposite direction.) This interpretation of the observed trend toward increasing inequality, and especially the phenomenon of the 1 percent, is not rooted in any failure of economic institutions; it rests primarily on the ability of the economy to absorb increasing amounts of capital without a substantial fall in the rate of return. This may be good news for the economy as a whole, but it is not good news for equity within the economy…There is yet another, also rather dark, implication of this account of underlying trends. If already existing agglomerations of wealth tend to grow faster than incomes from work, it is likely that the role of inherited wealth in society will increase relative to that of recently earned and therefore more merit-based fortunes…The arithmetic suggests that the concentration of wealth and its ability to grow will favor an increasing weight of inheritance as compared with talent…If the ownership of wealth in fact becomes even more concentrated during the rest of the twenty-first century, the outlook is pretty bleak unless you have a taste for oligarchy…Wouldn’t it be interesting if the United States were to become the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the last refuge of increasing inequality at the top (and perhaps also at the bottom)? Would that work for you? (Robert Solow New Republic 2014-04-22)

Piketty’s book is revolutionary. It rewrites the mission of economics, discarding claims that the discipline is a super-science of human behavior or public policy. Piketty wants to return his field to what the 19th century called ‘political economy’: a discipline about power, justice, and--also, but not first--wealth…[Piketty spoils] the longstanding conventional wisdom, supported by economics Nobel winners like Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman, plus lots of less controversial characters, that capitalism is democracy’s best friend…It shows a world getting radically more unequal, the return of hereditary wealth, and--at least in the U.S.--an economy so distorted that much of what happens at the very top can be fairly described as class-based looting. And he gives some fairly strong reasons to suspect that this, not the relatively open and egalitarian economies of the mid-20th century, is what capitalism looks like… Reading it is like talking to a smart person who knows you’re smart and knows, too, that you’re not an economist…We’ve been spun a story: mainstream economics for the last 60-odd years has succored a complacent folk tale, albeit with lots of mathematical sophistication tacked on. Except for some discernible ‘market failures,’ it told us that all was for the best in this best of worlds. What you earn must be what you are contributing; otherwise, the market would step in to restore efficiency…Piketty reveals that these just-so stories have veiled urgent and inflammatory problems: capitalism produces self-accelerating inequality that corrupts both politics and culture and splits society into privileged rent collectors and everyone else, who must choose either to get halfway rich ministering to capital or to stay on the low end of the pole doing the humanly necessary work of teaching, nursing, keeping the utility wires humming, and so forth. Piketty’s multi-century portrait of wealth and income obliterates economists’ complacent narratives…Yet the period of shared growth in the mid-20th century was not just the aftermath of war and depression. It was also the apex of organized labor’s power in Europe and North America, the fruit of many decades of organizing, not a little of it bloody, not a little under the flag of democratic socialism. Various crises cleared the ground, but the demands of labor, and an organized left more generally, were integral to building the comparatively egalitarian, high-wage world that came after the wars, with its strong public sector, self-assertive workers, and halfway tamed capital. There’s a lesson we can learn here about what we might do to combat inequality, and how…Piketty shows that capitalism’s attractive moral claims--that it can make everyone better off while respecting their freedom--deserve much less respect under our increasingly “pure” markets than in the mixed economies that dominated the North Atlantic countries in the mid-20th century…We are still seeking an economy that is both vibrant and humane, where mutual advantage is real and mutual aid possible. The one we have isn’t it. (Jedediah Purdy Los Angeles Review of Books 2014-04-24)

Thomas Piketty of the Paris School of Economics has done the definitive comparative historical research on income inequality in his Capital in the Twenty-First Century. (Paul Starr New York Review of Books 2014-05-22)

About the Author

Thomas Piketty is Professor at the Paris School of Economics.

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43 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Brief Summary and Review March 25 2014
By A. D. Thibeault TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
*A full summary of this book is available here: An Executive Summary of Thomas Piketty's 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century'

The main argument: The unequal distribution of wealth in the developed world has become a significant issue in recent years. Indeed, the data indicate that in the past 30 years the incomes of the wealthiest have surged into the stratosphere (and the higher up in the income hierarchy one is, the greater the increase has been), while the incomes of the large majority have stagnated. This has led to a level of inequality in wealth in the developed world not seen since the eve of the Great Depression. This much is without dispute.

Where there is dispute is in trying to explain just why the rise in inequality has taken place (and whether, and to what degree, it will continue in the future); and, even more importantly, whether it is justified. These questions are not merely academic, for the way in which we answer them informs public debate as well as policy measures—and also influences more violent reactions. Indeed, we need look no further than the recent Occupy Movement to see that the issue of increasing inequality is not only pressing, but potentially incendiary.

Given the import and the polarizing nature of the issue of inequality, it is all the more crucial that we begin by way of shedding as much light on the situation as possible. This is the impetus behind Thomas Piketty’s new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

One of Piketty’s main concerns in the book is to put the issue of inequality in its broader historical context.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
By Ronald W. Maron TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
I would be remiss if I did not respond to the negativity generated by the 'patriots' who felt it necessary to grant this writing a single star along with their swift action by the back of their hand. My review will center on not only the content of this tome, but others like it that encourage us, as a country, to closely examine the tenets we were told to memorize in secondary class rooms in order to test their present day validity.

Recent statistics reveal to us that in terms of 'comfort and happiness' the USA ranks 37th in the world. That should neither be something to be proud of nor entail an intellectual death struggle in order to maintain this lowly position. The countries that compile the highest scores are the Scandinavian, socialistic countries of Northern Europe. (but, I used that bad word, 'socialistic', didn't I!). They rank in this elite class due to the levels of equality they feel among themselves, the 'cradle to the grave' concept of personal security, and having the government look out for their, and not corporate, interests. Yes, their tax level is higher than the US and Canada but the return on their investment in a people-centered government is much greater. The US, on the other hand, has since its inception viewed monetary accumulation as being the ultimate goal that all of should plug into and spend our lives trying to attain. While persons who collect newspapers and stack them to the ceiling or have their homes overrun with hoards of cats are considered to be crazy, the person who also acts on his equally irrational compulsions and collects piles of money and then ships it to overseas tax-free accounts has his picture placed on the cover of a Fortune 500 magazine. Why the difference?
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Widening Gaps Between Them and Us July 20 2014
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Piketty, a French economist, in a major macroeconomic study of modern economies by the title of "Capital", believes that world economies are currently going through a serious rough patch that is the direct result of trends established over the past three centuries. Statistical evidence, taken from French tax records among other sources, points out that we have not arrived at our present perilous state simply by process of excessive spending and bad fiscal policies. He starts the discussion by dividing the economy into the public and private sectors, both of which have access to money through the generation and accumulation of wealth and the creation of assets resulting from an expanding economy. There is an illusion here that these two sectors work in harmony to provide the impetus for keeping world economies growing. There was a time back in the late nineteenth century when world powers like Britain, Germany, France and the United States were able to raise enough capital, through trade and inflation, to handle any debt. But that has all changed with two major world wars in the 20th century forcing big governments to become first-line borrowers in the creation of complex war machines, while the private sector reaped windfall profits with little risk. In the 1950s, an economic boom happened because governments were willing to continue borrowing liberally, through the sale of bonds to the private sector to build new infrastructure, provide social services, and attract new industrial development. Two world wars had effectively run public and private capital down to the point that it needed to be replenished. After underwriting the financing of the Cold War, the private sector or corporate agenda now controlled the future direction of the world economic order. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A beautifully and clearly written (and translated) masterpiece. A...
A classic. Beautifully written and impeccably translated. Professor Piketty writes elegantly and clearly and with a full understanding that he doesn't know everything. Read more
Published 6 days ago by aquinas
3.0 out of 5 stars a good book
Piketty describes the development of the relation between capital and income over the last three hundred years. Is there a trend or is it constant over time? Read more
Published 12 days ago by Bernd Kotz
4.0 out of 5 stars Very complete and interesting study of economic and population growth...
Very complete and interesting study of economic and population growth over many centuries. This book presents new concepts and understanding of trends. Read more
Published 20 days ago by Jessie
5.0 out of 5 stars Our right to know and make a decision.
Very good book and I think that has been a very disturbing one for those who believe in the capitalism's advantages in future. Read more
Published 22 days ago by Adrian Cosereanu
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read! I would strongly recommend this book but ...
Excellent read! I would strongly recommend this book but you'll need to allocate a fair bit of time, given the number of pages.
Published 23 days ago by Gord Jennings
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Well timed research into how well capitalism functions for labour.
Published 23 days ago by M. Mason
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant and Thought Provoking
Brilliant argued and deeply thought provoking. Long but easy to read. I liked the way he times economic history to the literature of the time.
Published 27 days ago by William Hopkins
5.0 out of 5 stars Piketty's Book is Excellent
This is an excellent book. It is so good that The Economist has gone to great pains in critiquing it. Read more
Published 28 days ago by John Phyne
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent
A highly detailed but readable review of the historical background to today's economic disparities, with recommendations for correcting imbalances.
Published 29 days ago by J. Noble
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent analysis of capitalism
Excellent review of capitalism in the 21st century and the resulting erosion of democracy.
Published 29 days ago by Lupita
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