Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Hardback Book

Capital in the Twenty-First Century Hardback

4 out of 5 (17 ratings)


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.


  • Format: Hardback
  • Pages: 640 pages, illustrations
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Central government policies
  • ISBN: 9780674430006

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Showing 1 - 5 of 17 reviews.

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Review by

Clearly an economists or one of a similar ilks wet dream, but for me way too much like reading a math book. May need to try again in small chunks.

Review by

Piketty proves that not income, but wealth - capital - leads to a growing inequality. It's not what you make with hard work and frugality, but what you inherit - when money starts to make so much money that you don't have to work anymore, you can buy politicians, you can dictate the have-nots to slave for you. It's the ultimate oligarchy we don't want in a meritocracy.The book - although written by a French economist - focuses largely on the situation in the US, but that will eventually grow out around the world. The value of the book is not so much that you have to agree with the solutions, but that it provides you with facts that gives you a possibility to make up your own mind about wealth and wealth redistribution and the future of our society - for better or for worse.Well worth your reading time.

Review by

Solid. The book can easily be encapsulated as: If the rate of growth on Capital exceeds the rate of income growth, then it doesn't matter how hard you work, the rich will continue to get richer. The only way to counter-act this is through taxation.The entirety of the book is in showing what this means, why it's true, and deals with many objections. Memorable, insightful, original. And like other top selling books, will probably have no impact on what people do. 5 stars oc

Review by

This book deserves all the attention it has received, and also deserves the time and mental energy that a careful reading entails. First, the book deals a massive blow to the theory of free-market capitalism that has become a core belief of the capitalist elite, and of much of the economics profession. Secondly, it provides a straightforward theory of how capitalism really works. And thirdly, it proposes solutions to the rising inequality that stems from that process. Those solutions don't look politically possible now, but as the author emphasizes, economic developments have political consequences. Moreover, the point isn't really the precise remedies that Piketty proposes, but the fact that he opens the discussion.The idea of free market capitalism, over the past half century, has grown from a collection of theories espoused by Adam Smith et al into an economic and political ideology, reinforced by the collapse of the Soviet Union, and supported by the economic elite whose interests it has served. The idea that capitalism ultimately benefits all participants -- that "a rising tide lifts all boats" -- is a powerful one that has been accepted by many people whose boats remain unlifted. Much of that reflects that, in the US and Europe, almost everyone between 50 and 70 did grow up in a world where the tide did rise, and most boats rose with it, with income inequality falling drastically compared to pre-war levels. That improvement is very widely assumed to be the result of a capitalist economic system. This is the central "fact" that Piketty demolishes, showing that the 1945-75 period (the thirty glorious years, for the French) reflected economic recovery from the war and political decisions that levelled income distribution. Rather than the thirty glorious years being the base state, Piketty argues, they were an aberration from the underlying pattern of capitalism, which is that income inequality -- and far more important, wealth inequality -- tends to grow strongly over time. Most of the book is about the data that he uses to arrive at this conclusion, data that were NOT easy to obtain. Indeed, Piketty's achievement in constructing his data base is just as important as his conclusion. Heretofore, we have been discussing inequality almost exclusively as an income phenomenon: what Piketty brings into the discussion is the question of wealth. Not only does he bring it in, he makes it possible to measure it. (Note: most of the reasonable criticism of Piketty so far -- I don't think that yelling Markist! is reasonable criticism -- has focussed on the data. Piketty, in the book, warns over and over of possible data weaknesses, and has made his data available on line. There will be problems, there are always problems with data. But disagreeing with a few data assumptions does not invalidate the argument). Based on this data, Piketty arrives at his central argument -- that when the rate of return on capital (very broadly defined) exceeds the growth of national income, when r is greater than g, wealth will become more concentrated. In the 50's and 60's, when economies were speeding ahead at 3-5% based on recovery from the war (and from the Depression) and when inflation was low, r was not necessarily greater than g. Since then, however, growth in the advanced countries has slowed sharply, while the return on capital has remained at 5% or better. The result is an increasing concentration of wealth, and Piketty sees no reason why this should change (The US has a special aspect which Piketty examines -- the dramatic increase in income inequality, as high-end wages have soared relative to average wages. This is of interest, but the key point remain r>gTo deal with this, Piketty proposes an international, progressive tax on wealth. That looks improbable at present, but, as he notes, a meaningful income tax looked pretty improbable a century ago. I don't think, however, that Piketty's proposed solution is critical -- what matters is the discussion he has brought to the fore. The essential point is that the state (really a group of states( is the only entity that can offset the concentration of wealth implicit in modern capitalism. Destroying capitalism doesn't work: consider the Soviet Union. But its benefits can be spread more widely by political means (taxes) while leaving the economic motor in place. Ultrahigh taxes, remember, do not seem to have deadened entrepreneurship from 1950 to 1975. This is not light reading, though it is remarkably free of economic jargon (as a former economist, I am an expert on that topic). But it is well worth the time and effort it demands. It is already playing a major role in the discussion on inequality and its political ramifications, and has certainly changed my thinking on the subject. This is a very major work.

Review by

What's not to like about an economics book that has 52 references to Balzac, except that it only has 12 references to Solow.

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