The rich get richer, through no fault—or virtue—of their own, according to this sweeping study of wealth in the modern world. Economist Piketty's formula "r > g" expresses the simple but profound insight that because the returns on capital—interest on savings, stock dividends and appreciation, rent from a farm or apartment building—usually exceed the economy's growth rate, wealth (especially inherited wealth) tends to grow faster than wages and become more concentrated at the top of the income scale, and the economy increasingly caters to rich elites instead of ordinary workers. (The best antidote to this inexorable tendency, he argues, is a direct progressive tax on wealth.) Piketty makes his case with three centuries' worth of economic data from around the world organized in a trove of detailed but lucid tables and graphs. This is a serious, meaty economic treatise, but Piketty's prose (in Goldhammer's deft translation) is wonderfully readable and engaging, and illuminates the human reality behind the econometric stats—especially in his explorations of the role of capital in the novels of Jane Austen and Balzac. Full of insights but free of dogma, this is a seminal examination of how entrenched wealth and intractable inequality continue to shape the economy. (Mar.)
Christian Century - James Halteman
[Piketty’s] overarching theme--that increased income disparity as a threat to democratic capitalism--remains prominent…His concerns about social unrest cannot be ignored: the movement from personal interdependence to impersonal global interdependence tends to erode trust and voluntary sharing, and wealth disparities are increasingly seen as unmerited and unfair.
Literary Review of Canada - George Fallis
Very readable and often slyly witty…Piketty does economics in a new way; or more accurately, he returns to an older way. He still uses formal economic theory but regards economics as a sub-discipline of social science, alongside history, sociology, anthropology and political science and prefers to characterize his work as political economy rather than economic science. Piketty draws wonderfully upon the novels of Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac to portray the gross inequality of 19th-century societies. He argues that the degree of inequality is not just the product of economic forces; it is also the product of politics, including the tax, expenditure and regulatory decisions of government, and the discourse of justification of inequality…Piketty starts in the 19th century and examines the three eras. He wants to understand the longue durée of capitalism, as did the pioneers of political economy such as Malthus, Ricardo and Marx. And like them, he places the distributional question--the distribution of pre-tax income and the distribution of wealth--at the heart of economic analysis. This approach, which is both empirical and historical, is much needed if we are to understand income inequality and more generally to understand how capitalist economies operate. The ahistorical perspective of hedge fund managers and their risk pricing models helped cause the financial crisis in 2007-08…Piketty’s focus is not labor income but capital income, and here lies his originality.
strategy+business - Daniel Gross
The best business book on economics of the year.
Inc. - Geoffrey James
This book is the key to understanding how the automatic accumulation and concentration of wealth poses a threat to the peaceful economies in which entrepreneurs prosper.
Sunday Times - Roland White
The year’s most popular and controversial book.
The Telegraph - Nicholas Blincoe
Marx believed that free markets produce inequality, social division and violence. Piketty appears to side with Marx, but this is deceptive. When Piketty talks about ‘capital,’ he means the kind of investments held by today’s leisured rentier class whose money is tied up in property and pensions. Piketty argues that a free market overloaded with this kind of capital may or may not lead to anger and alienation, but it will certainly act like lumpy blockages in the smooth running of the economy. Piketty only wants the economy to work better.
Bloomberg View - Stephen L. Carter
The fundamental theme on the differences between returns to capital and returns to labor is one that Piketty has brought, quite properly, to the center of policy discussions.
Times Higher Education - Allyson Pollock
Belief in markets may be crumbling but as platoons of mercenaries, lawyers, accountants and management consultants continue to plunder the world’s resources on behalf of unaccountable corporations, the tipping point has not yet been reached. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century shows how privateers use privatization, debt creation and capital inflation as a mechanism for rent extraction, with catastrophic consequences for public services.
Technology Review - David Rotman
When the rate of return on capital exceeds the growth rate (which [Piketty] says is what happened until the beginning of the 20th century and is likely to happen again as growth slows), then the money that rich people make from their wealth piles up while wages rise more slowly if at all. The implications of this should be frightening for anyone who believes in a merit-based system. It means we are in danger of entering into an era that, like the 19th century in France and England, is socially and politically dominated by those with vast amounts of inherited wealth…Piketty’s book is important because of the way he has clarified the magnitude of the problem and its dangers. And he has done so at a time of increasing soul-searching about the role technology plays in exacerbating inequality.
Gates Notes - Bill Gates
This past July, I felt compelled to read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century after reading several reviews and hearing about it from friends. I’m glad I did. I encourage you to read it too…I agree with his most important conclusions, and I hope his work will draw more smart people into the study of wealth and income inequality.
Marianne - Emmanuel Todd
A seminal book on the economic and social evolution of the planet… A masterpiece.
The book of the season.
Outstanding… A political and theoretical bulldozer.
An explosive argument.
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.
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.
Vox - Matthew Yglesias
Anyone remotely interested in economics needs to read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century.
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.
New Yorker - Amy Merrick
Piketty, a prominent economist, explains the tendency in mature societies for wealth to concentrate in a few hands.
New York Times - Thomas B. Edsall
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.
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.
Fortune.com - Christopher Matthews
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.
New Yorker - John Cassidy
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.
New York Times - Paul Krugman
[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 sweepwhen 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.
New Yorker blog - George Packer
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.
New York Times - Eduardo Porter
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.
Al Jazeera America - David Cay Johnston
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.
New York Times Magazine - Shaila Dewan
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.
The WorldPost - Nathan Gardels
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.
Prospect - Robert Skidelsky
[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.
Forbes - Joseph Thorndike
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.
The Week - Ryan Cooper
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 itselfunless governments take action to rein in capitalism’s excesses… But the value of Piketty’s work is that it shows that capitalism’s postwar heydayin which incomes at the bottom and the top actually convergedwas 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.
The Week - Matt Bruenig
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.
Washington Monthly - Kathleen Geier
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.
Globe and Mail - Toby Sanger
The most eagerly anticipated book on economics in many years.
American Prospect - Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson
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.
American Prospect - Heather Boushey
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.
American Prospect - Branko Milanovic
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 capitalthose who have to work for a living and those who live from propertypeople in fleshare squarely back in economics via this great book.
Bookforum - Doug Henwood
[An] enormously important book.
Barnes and Noble Review
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.’
Women’s Review of Books - Kate Bahn
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century is arguably the most important popular economics book in recent memory. It will take its place among other classics in the field that have survived changing theoretical and political fashions, such as its namesake by Karl Marx (Das Kapital, 1867) or other ambitiously titled books such as John Maynard Keynes’s The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936). Anyone who wants to engage in an informed discussion about the economic landscape will have to read Piketty.
Financial Express - Madan Sabnavis
[A] seminal work on capitalism.
Dawn - Hassan Javid
Piketty’s great achievement, and one possible reason for the enthusiastic reception of his book, is his effective empirical demonstration of a fact long denied by neoclassical economics and its champions throughout the world: markets, when left to their own devices, do not provide individuals with rewards that are proportional to their efforts and contributions towards producing goods and services, nor do they ensure the most optimal distribution of those goods and services. Instead, they tend to concentrate wealth in fewer and fewer hands, giving rise to what Piketty calls a system of ‘patrimonial’ capitalism in which a few major players derive disproportionate benefit simply by virtue of possessing high amounts of capital… As a work of economic history, and a source of data, it effectively demolishes mainstream myths about the ability of markets to combat inequality, reward effort and innovation, and deliver the greatest amount of good to the greatest number of people. At a point in time where slogans about the 1 per cent vs the 99pc abound, this book provides conclusive evidence in support of the idea that the modern-world economy is one that is inherently unjust and exploitative.
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.
New Statesman - Nick Pearce
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.
Washington Post - Steven Pearlstein
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.
Irish Times - Paul Sweeney
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.
Salon - Paul Campos
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.
Financial Times - Martin Wolf
This was the blockbuster success of 2014 and was named the Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year. Despite the controversies surrounding it, the book throws much light upon one of the most important questions in economics: what determines the distribution of income and wealth. With an abundance of data and some simple and powerful theories, Piketty has made an immensely important contribution to the public debate.
Globe and Mail - Barrie McKenna
About as close to a blockbuster as there is in the world of economic literatureeasily 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 democraciesnamely, that growth and productivity make each generation better off than the previous one.
Washington Post - Harold Meyerson
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.
The Nation - Timothy Shenk
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.
The Observer - Andrew Hussey
[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.
Washington Post blog - Kenneth Scheve and David Stasavage
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.
Daily Beast - Thomas Flynn
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.
Time - Rana Foroohar
It proves, irrefutably and clearly, what we’ve all suspected for some time nowthe 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.
U.S. News & World Report online - Chad Stone
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.
Politico - Chrystia Freeland
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 erawhen the West enjoyed strong, widely-shared growthwas 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.
Boston Globe - Michael Washburn
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.
The Australian - Christopher Croke
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.
Foreign Policy online - James Traub
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.
New York Times - Robert J. Shiller
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.
New Republic - Robert Solow
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?
Los Angeles Review of Books - Jedediah Purdy
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.
New York Review of Books - Paul Starr
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.
The Guardian - Robert B. Reich
An extraordinary sweep of history backed by remarkably detailed data and analysis… Piketty’s economic analysis and historical proofs are breathtaking.
Democracy - Lawrence H. Summers
Piketty’s treatment of inequality is perfectly matched to its moment. Like [Paul] Kennedy a generation ago, Piketty has emerged as a rock star of the policy-intellectual world… But make no mistake, his work richly deserves all the attention it is receiving… Piketty, in collaboration with others, has spent more than a decade mining huge quantities of data spanning centuries and many countries to document, absolutely conclusively, that the share of income and wealth going to those at the very topthe top 1 percent, .1 percent, and .01 percent of the populationhas risen sharply over the last generation, marking a return to a pattern that prevailed before World War I… Even if none of Piketty’s theories stands up, the establishment of this fact has transformed political discourse and is a Nobel Prize–worthy contribution. Piketty provides an elegant framework for making sense of a complex reality. His theorizing is bold and simple and hugely important if correct. In every area of thought, progress comes from simple abstract paradigms that guide later thinking, such as Darwin’s idea of evolution, Ricardo’s notion of comparative advantage, or Keynes’s conception of aggregate demand. Whether or not his idea ultimately proves out, Piketty makes a major contribution by putting forth a theory of natural economic evolution under capitalism… Piketty writes in the epic philosophical mode of Keynes, Marx, or Adam Smith… By focusing attention on what has happened to a fortunate few among us, and by opening up for debate issues around the long-run functioning of our market system, Capital in the Twenty-First Century has made a profoundly important contribution.
Boston Review - Mike Konczal
It is easy to overlook the achievement of Thomas Piketty’s new bestseller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, as a work of economic history. Debates about the book have largely focused on inequality. But on any given page, there is data about the total level of private capital and the percentage of income paid out to labor in England from the 1700s onward, something that would have been impossible for early researchers… Capital reflects decades of work in collecting national income data across centuries, countries, and class, done in partnership with academics across the globe. But beyond its remarkably rich and instructive history, the book’s deep and novel understanding of inequality in the economy has drawn well-deserved attention… [Piketty’s] engagement with the rest of the social sciences also distinguishes him from most economists… The book is filled with brilliant moments… The book is an attempt to ground the debate over inequality in strong empirical data, put the question of distribution back into economics, and open the debate not just to the entirety of the social sciences but to people themselves.
Salon - Thomas Frank
What makes Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century such a triumph is that it seems to have been written specifically to demolish the great economic shibboleths of our time… Piketty’s magnum opus.
The Times - Giles Whittell
[A] 700-page punch in the plutocracy’s pampered gut… It’s been half a century since a book of economic history broke out of its academic silo with such fireworks.
The Times - Oliver Kamm
Piketty has won interest and enthusiasm on the left of the political spectrum…for this ambitious work. It is not, however, a politically sectarian argument; perhaps that explains why it has become a surprise bestseller. The strength of his thesis is that it is founded on evidence rather than ideology. Piketty has researched data over more than a century in order to derive his understanding of the dynamics of modern capitalism. He is able to point convincingly to a recent reversal of historical trends, so that the share of national income taken by the owners of capital has expanded over the past generation…What Piketty has done is provide a strong factual understanding for how modern capitalist economies diverge from the image of risk-taking and productive commercial activity. At the very least, the book effectively debunks the notion that there is an economic imperative for low tax rates and a smaller state.
The book has made everyone with a stake in capitalism sit up and take notice…[Piketty’s] analysis should challenge Americans to rethink our notions of wealth and poverty and whether any semblance of ‘equal opportunity’ actually exists…Piketty has made an important contribution. His book prompts the discerning person to evaluate anew the human and social costs of capitalism. The creative thinking of citizens is now required to combat the ills he has diagnosed.
Big Issue - Thomas Quinn
When it comes to economics…you need to get yourself a hold of Capital in the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Piketty…Piketty’s study will have readers plotting capital’s downfall because what it shows is that the growing inequalities we are seeing between the haves and have nots are endemic to the system. Piketty has been hailed by many on the right as well as the left, for writing a highly significant book. Its strength rests on the fact that he has worked the sources in a way few economists have, analyzing actual data on earnings over decades to come up with some startling conclusions. We are entering a new age of capital, he argues; a time, similar to the early 19th century, when many will live off their money. Without the need for work. Meanwhile, those without capital will always struggle to keep ahead of debts.
Business Today - Ajit Ranade
Piketty's magnum opus…But unlike many other authors of tracts from the ‘dismal science,’ this distinguished French economist has rendered an eminently readable account of the history and dynamics of capitalism and inequality…A lucid tale of why inequality in the world is increasing, and what we should be doing about it. The right leaning crowd may be dismayed with his prescriptions of stiff global wealth taxes, but neither leftists nor rightists can dispute the data that he presents…According to Piketty, the only real corrective to capital’s concentration is a global capital tax (because it is freely globally mobile), and a stiff inheritance tax. This is controversial, but what is not disputed is that inequality in income and wealth within each country has gotten much worse in the past three decades. The question is what do we do about it. For starters, we should read this excellent book.
Cleveland Plain Dealer - Earl Pike
Intellectually hefty…Piketty has already engendered vigorous argument. Capital is an arduous climb, but the subject is equally weighty, and it demands our best analyses, proposals and dialogues. Capital is an essential volume in the conversation.
Commonweal - Charles R. Morris
An important book…which paints a compelling, and scary, picture of the deep forces driving toward ever greater inequality in the modern world. Piketty’s historical focus adds power to his analysis of the trend toward greater financial inequality today.
Finance & Development - Andrew Berg
This important and fascinating book surely ranks among the most influential economic analysis of recent decades. Much of the debate over inequality in recent years is the result of the work of Thomas Piketty and his fellow researchers…This book contains important lessons for economists. It is a (perhaps unwelcome) reminder that what they measure reflects political choices. It cautions them to be wary of viewing recent decades as some sort of ‘steady state’; the evolution of post-World War II incomes and wealth reflect the unwinding of earlier events, and the point is more general. And it reminds them of the rhetorical and explanatory power of simple comparisons of facts, once collected and arranged, relative to complex statistics and models.
The Guardian - Paul Mason
Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century delivered a well placed kick up the backside to complacent mainstream economics.
The Guardian - Len McCluskey
Piketty solidifies and gives an intellectual edge to the view that something is wrong here, and something new and bold and radical has got to be done… People like me, and others, are certainly excited by the prospect of where Piketty might take us.
The Guardian blog
[Capital in the Twenty-First Century] has jolted the right, who are scrabbling around for an answer to its main message: rising inequality is killing capitalism…It is a big book in every sense of the word, using empirical evidence from 30 countries to describe how capitalism has evolved over the past 300 years and is now reverting to what Piketty calls the Downton Abbey world of a century ago. Where much modern writing about economics is cloaked in impenetrable jargon, Piketty is not afraid to draw on literature and popular culture to make his points…Piketty’s book seems to explain the brutal world of the Great Recession and its aftermath rather better than trickle-down economics…It is rare for economics books to fly off the shelves. Once in every generation, usually when the world has started to recover after a serious recession, there is a search for answers. Will Hutton’s The State We’re In was the must-buy book two decades ago just as Piketty’s is today.
The Independent - Ben Chu
Monumental…Translated beautifully by Arthur Goldhammer, [Capital in the Twenty-First Century]…smashed into the intellectual world with incredible force…But beyond the media phenomenon, how much substance was there? The answer is: a considerable amount. The book is important, first and foremost, because it brings together a vast trove of research by Piketty and others on the evolution of income and wealth over two centuries. One also has to admire the way Piketty marshals the data to create a sweeping historical narrative, in a style reminiscent of the great thinkers of the 19th century.
Literary Review - Alan Ryan
In the 19th century, tsarist censors banned John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty while letting through Karl Marx’s Das Kapital. Mill’s message was so lucidly expressed that it posed an obvious and immediate threat to the regime; Marx’s prose was clotted and convoluted and his economics littered with leftovers from his youthful enthusiasm for Hegel. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century shares its title with Marx’s work but its argumentative verve with Mill’s, and it has been a runaway bestseller in the United States. In spite of the efforts of conservative American economists to persuade their readers that anyone who raises questions about inequalities of income and wealth must be a Marxist, Piketty has no time whatsoever for Marx. Piketty’s economics is ‘data driven,’ while Marx was short of useful data, did not make good use of what data he had and generalized wildly from a few exceptional cases of capital-intensive industries…The book is a terrific achievement.
London Evening Standard - Andrew Neather
One of the strengths of Piketty’s book is the depth and rigor of his historical analysis. Yet it is changes taking place now that make his concerns especially urgent…Piketty’s is a potentially apocalyptic view of the future. On that at least, we’d better hope he’s wrong.
The Nation - Thomas Meaney and Yascha Mounk
The enthusiastic reception in the United States of Piketty’s rigorous Capital in the Twenty-First Century, which answers the empirical spirit of the age with a welcome rush of statistics, may be a promising sign of renewal in the otherwise sedate intellectual pastures of the continent. To have made the word “redistribution” utterable again by mainstream economists is already a considerable achievement. Having offered an unignorable account of the history of inequality in capitalist democracies, Piketty believes he has identified a Band-Aid of sufficient swath--a European tax on wealth and a parliamentary chamber charged with regulating finance in the euro zone--to cover Europe’s wounds.
Not since John Rawls’s A Theory of Justice in 1971 has a work of political theory been as rapturously received on the left as Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century…In this supposedly superficial and anti-intellectual age, his 690-page treatise on inequality, rich in empirical research, has resonated because it speaks to one of the central anxieties of our time: that society is becoming ever more fragmented as the very rich pull away from the rest. As Piketty elegantly demonstrates, as long as the rate of return on what he calls capital continues to exceed the growth rate of the economy (as it has done since the 1970s), inequality will widen to levels unknown since the Victorian era.
Red Pepper - John Palmer
Thomas Piketty…has written a 700 page book on inequality which has achieved something few would have thought possible. He has rocked the neo-liberal economic establishment to its foundations. To read the tidal wave of reviews by economics professors and others across the world is to get a sense of the impact that Piketty’s conclusions are having: that inequality is even more extreme than most experts thought, is worse than at any time since the 19th century and is set to reach nightmare proportions in the years ahead. Even some of the most ideologically blinkered of free market economists, having read this book, now openly admit that Professor Piketty has laid down a challenge which they dare not ignore and which could change the political environment.
Slate - Jordan Weissmann
[Piketty] has been perhaps the most important thinker on inequality of the past decade or so… With his book, he’s handed liberals a coherent framework that justifies the discomfort that they probably already felt about the wealth gap… Capital will change the political conversation in a more subtle way as well, by focusing it on wealth, not income… Whether or not Piketty’s grand unified theory is exactly correct, he’s moving the popular conversation in the right direction.
South China Morning Post - Perry Lam
There are books that you read and there are books that hit the nail on the head so hard that you want to get your teeth into them. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century…clearly belongs to the second category.
Standpoint - David Womersley
Impressive, provocative… The richness, scope and detail of Piketty’s analysis means that it is impossible to summarize it without losing much of the vibrancy which makes it such an exceptionally gripping read… The special conditions for growth created by the two world wars have now evaporated. The forces of convergence are in large measure spent, and the forces of divergence are in the ascendant. Capitalism is reverting to type… The first three parts of Piketty’s book are devoted to describing and analyzing this transition. They represent a brilliant, mesmerizing re-statement of technical matters for a non-specialist readership. Here Piketty’s achievement is superb… There is a huge amount to admire and welcome in this book… Like the radicals of the 1790s, who toasted Edmund Burke in gratitude for the fundamental debate his writings on the French Revolution had provoked, even those who find Piketty’s remedies unpalatable and in some ways worse than the disease he is trying to cure should nevertheless applaud his industry, his acuity, and his humane commitment to the ideal of rational, temperate and informed public debate.
The Telegraph - Mary Riddell
[Piketty] has demolished the Western myth that all who work hard can expect success.
Times Higher Education - Philip Roscoe
Magisterial… Bursting with ideas… This book is economics at its best.
Los Angeles Review of Books - Stephen Marche
Piketty has shown that we are living in a Second Gilded Age…It is too early to expect actual public policies to emerge from his insights. But the significance of his contribution is already apparent in the breadth of his vision. Nestled under the book’s mass of data, elegant mathematical formulae, and literary references is an insistence that the turmoil of capitalism is a human turmoil, within the control of human beings. Piketty’s book is a call to citizenship, not as a series of fatalistic poses, but as a political responsibility. That spirit of engagement is more radical, at this moment in history, than any other proposal.
Vanity Fair - Michael Kinsley
Reading Thomas Piketty’s famous book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, after all the fuss about it, is a bit of a shock. It’s both much more radical and much less radical than its reputation…I was anticipating a left-wing rant, but Piketty’s tone is modest and polite--not at all what you expect from a rock-star French intellectual…Piketty and his book remind me of my favorite economist, the 19th-century American Henry George, and his best-selling book, Progress and Poverty (1879). Both men’s books offer a comprehensive explanation of the world, in particular the problem of poverty. Both men acknowledge the importance of market incentives and entrepreneurship and the evils of protectionism and all of that good conservative stuff, even as they rail against the plutocrats. Both think we can end or reduce inequality without giving up the benefits of capitalism. And both see the answer in a new tax on capital…This is beginning to sound sort of reasonable, both in its demands on people at the top and its generosity to those on the bottom.
New Republic - Russell Jacoby
Piketty’s book bespeaks the palpable upset that American society, indeed, the world’s societies, seems increasingly rigged; that inequality is worsening and darkening the future. Capital in the Twenty-First Century might be more aptly titled Inequality in the Twenty-First Century…Piketty is relentless in his indictment of inequality…Piketty assembles a mountain of numbers and tables to demonstrate that economic inequality is intensifying; that the wealthier are wealthier; and that the rich own more…Piketty hits bullseye after bullseye about the exacerbating inequalities that disfigure society--especially American society…For [those] who suffer from the relentless blather about why the minimum wage cannot be raised; why ‘job creators’ cannot be taxed; and why American society remains the most open in the world, Piketty is what the doctor ordered.
LSE Review of Books - Christel Lane
This is a truly path-breaking book offering a hard-hitting and well-founded critique of capitalism in the twenty-first century. Piketty is concerned with the dynamics of income and wealth since the eighteenth century to draw lessons for the century ahead. The book has an admirably wide scope, offering systematic comparisons not only across advanced and emerging economies, but also across modern history…It is an exceptionally well-researched book. His sources are well documented. Piketty’s overall analysis and conclusions cannot be waved away by those who feel threatened by the book’s analysis and policy recommendations…In addition to uncovering [some] fundamental contradictions of capitalism and documenting the ensuing inequality in great detail, Piketty’s book contains a large number of less central, but nevertheless very arresting insights and findings…Very importantly, Piketty goes beyond uncovering the dynamics of capitalism and the ensuing inequalities and goes on to suggest policy measures to arrest/reverse them. These are not merely an afterthought but form a significant and well-reasoned part of the book…Piketty shows himself to be not only a supereconomist but also a skilled politician. No wonder his thoughts have resonated even at the highest political levels. One can only hope that his work will actually influence adoption of his policy recommendations.
The Tablet - William Keegan
As befits a book of such size, Capital is broad-ranging, both historically and geographically…This impressive book contains the odd equation and chart that might not appeal to the general reader, but I hope this work will not go the way of A Brief History of Time--a book more talked about than read.
Times Literary Supplement - Duncan Kelly
Riveting…[Piketty] embodies a model of engaged and sophisticated public debate, the sort of which politicians can only dream…One of Piketty’s main messages is that the structures of inequality societies choose to live with are the results of political choices, not natural or immutable economic tendencies, and that to pretend otherwise is an ‘ideological’ fiction…Capital inequality has dispossessed us of our ‘democratic sovereignty,’ and that’s something we should all really worry about… His book is as much a story about the limits of modern democratic politics as it is about the structures of inequality…When Piketty’s insights are eventually fused into new histories of economic and political thinking about global competition from the French Revolution to the present, the results will be...electrifying, particularly when it comes to revisiting the political and economic ideas of the global wars of the first half of the twentieth century…[This book] will certainly also shake the foundations of many university courses in political philosophy. That is itself quite a remarkable achievement, and perhaps the sort of achievement that might lead to the sort of political consciousness-raising Piketty is clearly keen to promote. In that, he really is an heir to a long-standing tradition of public intellectuals in French academic life since the Revolution.
Boing Boing - Cory Doctorow
Piketty has come in for a lot of praise for the clarity of his writing, and I think it’s deserved. There’s very little math in this book, and it assumes very little prior knowledge of economics. In part, this is because Piketty is offering something fresh in the discourse: an unimaginably massive data-set that traces the ebb and flow of wealth and productivity around the globe for three centuries…Piketty challenges the idea that modernity somehow led to ‘merit’ asserting itself as the new determinant of wealth. Instead, he makes a very convincing case that the increasing size of the capital class--which expanded comfortably during the period of colonial expansion--created a hunger for wealth that turned the aristocracy on itself in a squabble over who got to loot the colonies, which was World War I…This is a crisis. The reason for capitalism is that it is supposed to allocate reward based on ‘merit’--it is supposed to move capital into the hands of the people who can do the most with it--and if all our policy decisions are made in service to a class of supermanagers whose wealth comes from squatting on a fortune managed by some green-eyeshade quants who grow it without its owner ever doing a notable thing apart from being born to dynasty, there is no more reason for capitalism. Piketty darkly hints that the last time this happened, the world tore itself to pieces, twice, in an orgy of destruction that left millions dead and whole nations in ruin…It’s a rare thing to see economists, especially pro-capitalist economists, praising taxation itself, but Piketty--careful, unemotional Piketty--dares…Besides, he says, the thing every red-blooded entrepreneur wants to see is people getting rich by their wits and deeds, not by the birthright of kings…Piketty wants desperately to salvage captalism, even if that means proposing something that every capitalist will hate: a global wealth tax.
The Hindu - K. Subramanian
The impact of the book will be [deep] and long lasting…Piketty has elevated many issues to a higher level by making the study of inequality as one of political economy embedded in history, data and configuration of socio-political groups… This book has all the makings of a classic. It has already changed the way economists think about inequality. One hopes that these ideas will percolate into the chambers of policy-makers in governments and lending institutions and bring about changes in their policies to reduce inequality.
New York Times - Joseph E. Stiglitz
[A] timely, important book.
The Guardian - Stephanie Flanders
A book of such magisterial sweep…Piketty deserves huge credit for kickstarting a debate about inequality and illuminating the distribution of income and wealth.
Evening Standard - David Sexton
Seven hundred pages on the evolution of inequality in economically advanced societies by the most fashionable new theorist to emerge for a long time. Many have been waiting for such a comprehensive critique of capitalism.
New York Times - A. O. Scott
This year’s most unlikely best seller, a crossover from the world of scholarship into general public discussion of a kind that seems rarer than it used to be. The book’s thesis--that economic inequality in the developed world is increasing, with potentially dire consequences for social justice and democratic governance--has struck a nerve in the American body politic. But its implications extend beyond the realm of political economy…The book invites the re-examination of deeply held assumptions about the world.
YES! - Dean Paton
Using sophisticated computer modeling and analyses, the professor from the Paris School of Economics debunks a long-held assumption--that income from wages will tend to grow at roughly the same rate as wealth--and instead makes a compelling case that, over time, the apparatus of capitalism grows wealth faster than wages. Result: Inequality between the wealthy and everyone else will widen faster and faster; and, without progressive taxation, his data show we’ll return to levels of inequality not seen since America’s Gilded Age.
Chronicle of Higher Education - Michael W. Clune
Capital in the Twenty-First Century convinces because Piketty supports his arguments about inequality with two innovative forms of evidence largely neglected by his predecessors on both the left and the right. The first is an unprecedented trove of historical economic data, which Piketty uses to demonstrate increasing inequality due to the long-term tendency of returns on capital to outpace economic growth. The second is a series of literary works, which Piketty uses to reveal the social and psychological consequences of this inequality in its erosion of human dignity. The depth and range of evidence Piketty marshals allows him to deliver a devastating blow to the confidence of many economists that capitalism is a tide that gradually lifts all boats. In the process, he mounts an effective critique of the tendency of economic writers on both left and right to rely on theories and formal systems. Many who were content to ignore the warnings of [David] Harvey and company that our economic system will produce unsustainable levels of inequity find that they cannot ignore Piketty’s…His book challenges both mainstream economists’ faith in untested mathematical models, as well as radicals’ resistance to subjecting Marx’s economic theory to rigorous testing.
America - Matthew Carnes
In this monumental, vitally important work, [Piketty] forces us to reconsider what we think we know about the baseline functioning of capitalist economies over the long haul, and to grapple with the implications for ourselves and our times. Piketty’s approach is data-driven. In detective-like fashion, he has collected the most complete historical series on distributions of income and wealth ever assembled, and this data allows him to articulate a penetrating and highly accessible account of the long evolution of inequality within advanced industrial nations…The findings are numerous and sobering, and nearly every page of the book rewards a careful reading with new insights and intriguing questions.
Business Insider - Tomas Hirst
New research from the Fed shows incomes of the richest Americans are bouncing back strongly after the crisis while average incomes have fallen…In essence, French economist Thomas Piketty’s contention that wealth breeds wealth--and that increasing inequality is part of capitalism’s inherent structure, rather than an occasional condition--looks largely correct, at least since the early 1990s.
Chicago Tribune - Michael Robbins
Piketty demonstrates in terrifying detail, with painstaking statistical research, that free-market capitalism, in the absence of major state redistribution, produces profound economic inequalities. Specifically, after redistributive policies in the mid-20th century narrowed the income and wealth gap somewhat, the gap has widened again in the last few decades, approaching levels not seen since before World War I.
A French academic serves up a long, rigorous critique, dense with historical data, of American-style predatory capitalism—and offers remedies that Karl Marx might applaud.Economist Piketty considers capital, in the monetary sense, from the vantage of what he considers the capital of the world, namely Paris; at times, his discussions of how capital works, and especially public capital, befit Locke-ian France and not Hobbesian America, a source of some controversy in the wide discussion surrounding his book. At heart, though, his argument turns on well-founded economic principles, notably r > g, meaning that the "rate of return on capital significantly exceeds the growth rate of the economy," in Piketty's gloss. It logically follows that when such conditions prevail, then wealth will accumulate in a few hands faster than it can be broadly distributed. By the author's reckoning, the United States is one of the leading nations in the "high inequality" camp, though it was not always so. In the colonial era, Piketty likens the inequality quotient in New England to be about that of Scandinavia today, with few abject poor and few mega-rich. The difference is that the rich now—who are mostly the "supermanagers" of business rather than the "superstars" of sports and entertainment—have surrounded themselves with political shields that keep them safe from the specter of paying more in taxes and adding to the fund of public wealth. The author's data is unassailable. His policy recommendations are considerably more controversial, including his call for a global tax on wealth. From start to finish, the discussion is written in plainspoken prose that, though punctuated by formulas, also draws on a wide range of cultural references.Essential reading for citizens of the here and now. Other economists should marvel at how that plain language can be put to work explaining the most complex of ideas, foremost among them the fact that economic inequality is at an all-time high—and is only bound to grow worse.