By Thomas Piketty
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.
Allen R. Sanders on his personal website at the University of Chicago wrote:
"This is a VIB – very important book. Nearly everyone agrees about that. But the reasons for its importance have changed in the months since it was published. [...] the debate about the book is more important than the book itself. That's certainly the conclusion I have come to, and not just because several of its central arguments have now been questioned. [...] Piketty deserves huge credit for kickstarting a debate about inequality and illuminating the distribution of income and wealth. But when it comes to the forces driving growth and wealth accumulation in our modern economy what he has probably done most to bring out into the open is our collective ignorance and confusion."
"With a title evoking Marx, this book is a serious, comprehensive, readable, meticulously researched and argued tome on income and wealth inequality. Translated into English from the original French publication, the book has garnered rave reviews for Piketty (Paris School of Economics). Piketty's thesis is that in modern, dynamic market economies the returns to tightly held capital exceed those for wages or in the economy (GDP) as a whole, thus inevitably increasing inequality. The author argues that the respite--approximately 1914 to the 1970s, when inequality declined as wage gains outstripped rewards to capital--was an aberration, not a trend. The author's solution is steep global taxes on investment income and wealth. Worldwide concerns about inequality have taken center stage in recent years, and this volume will feed left-right scholarly and populist debates about the inherent contributions and contradictions in capitalism. With its 600 pages of prose and 100 pages of bibliographic aids, including endnotes and tables, this book cannot--and should not--be ignored. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower-division undergraduates and above; general readers."
Videos with Piketty on Capital
- Thomas Piketty's 'Capital' in 3 minutes (BBC Newsnight)
- An Introduction to Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century (3,5 minute animated video)
- Lecture by Piketty on the book (1,5 hours)
Further Info / Reading
- "The short guide to Capital in the 21st Century" (Vox.com)
- "Thomas Piketty’s 'Capital', summarised in four paragraphs" (The Economist)
- Wikipedia page on Capital in the Twenty-First Century
- Powerpoint of talk by Piketty on parts II & III of the book (46 slides)
The website of Harvard University Press also has a long list of related links, such as media appearances by Piketty.
About Thomas Piketty
Thomas Piketty is Professor at EHESS and at the Paris School of Economics. He is the author of numerous articles published in journals such as the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Political Economy, the American Economic Review, the Review of Economic Studies, Explorations in Economic History, Annales: Histoire, Sciences Sociales, and of a dozen books. He has done major historical and theoretical work on the interplay between economic development and the distribution of income and wealth. In particular, he is the initiator of the recent literature on the long run evolution of top income shares in national income (now available in the World Inequality Database). These works have led to radically question the optimistic relationship between development and inequality posited by Kuznets, and to emphasize the role of political, social and fiscal institutions in the historical evolution of income and wealth distribution.
Table of Contents of Capital in the Twenty-First Century
I. Income and Capital
- Income and Output
- Growth: Illusions and Realities
II. The Dynamics of the Capital/Income Ratio
- The Metamorphoses of Capital
- From Old Europe to the New World
- The Capital/Income Ratio over the Long Run
- The Capital–Labor Split in the Twenty-First Century
III. The Structure of Inequality
- Inequality and Concentration: Preliminary Bearings
- Two Worlds
- Inequality of Labor Income
- Inequality of Capital Ownership
- Merit and Inheritance in the Long Run
- Global Inequality of Wealth in the Twenty-First Century
IV. Regulating Capital in the Twenty-First Century
- A Social State for the Twenty-First Century
- Rethinking the Progressive Income Tax
- A Global Tax on Capital
- The Question of the Public Debt