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Capital in the Twenty-First Century
Thomas Piketty is a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality.
Thomas Piketty is the author of the best-selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. The book argues that the rate of capital return in developed countries is persistently greater than the rate of economic growth, and that this will cause wealth inequality to increase in the future.
He is professor at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales, professor at the Paris School of Economics and Centennial professor at the London 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 and the Review of Economic Studies, 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 Top Incomes 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 and fiscal institutions in the historical evolution of income and wealth distribution.
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.