Jumping on the Piketty Bandwagon

22 04 2014

Ok. I’ve gone and done it. I’ve ordered economist Thomas Piketty’s best-selling book on the growth of economic inequality in advanced societies. This book isn’t really relevant to my research, so I had hesitated to order it. However, it’s getting so much attention that I’ve concluded that any self-respecting social scientist needs to read it. 

Economist Tyler Cowen has published a lengthy review of Piketty’s book in Foreign Affairs. Cowen clearly respects that massive empirical research that went into this book but profoundly disagrees with Piketty’s conclusions. 

Every now and then, the field of economics produces an important book; this is one of them. Thomas Piketty’s tome will put capitalist wealth back at the center of public debate, resurrect interest in the subject of wealth distribution, and revolutionize how people view the history of income inequality. On top of that, although the book’s prose (translated from the original French) might not qualify as scintillating, any educated person will be able to understand it — which sets the book apart from the vast majority of works by high-level economic theorists….

 

In perhaps the most revealing line of the book, the 42-year-old Piketty writes that since the age of 25, he has not left Paris, “except for a few brief trips.” Maybe it is that lack of exposure to conditions and politics elsewhere that allows Piketty to write the following words with a straight face: “Before we can learn to efficiently organize public financing equivalent to two-thirds to three-quarters of national income” — which would be the practical effect of his tax plan — “it would be good to improve the organization and operation of the existing public sector.” It would indeed. But Piketty makes such a massive reform project sound like a mere engineering problem, comparable to setting up a public register of vaccinated children or expanding the dog catcher’s office. – 

 

Matt Ygelsias informs us that: 

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century, in its hardcover edition, is currently the #1 best-selling book on Amazon. Perhaps a bit tellingly, the Kindle edition is only the #23 book in the Kindle store. That indicates to me that demand for a handsome volume of a widely discussed book to sit on your shelf is perhaps a bit higher than demand for actually reading the book. So if you’ve bought the book to sit on your shelf and want to be able to discuss it intelligently without reading it, I would suggest our short guide.

 

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