It came out in France last year to great acclaim, which meant that those in the English-speaking world who pay attention to such matters knew that something big was coming. That, and it really is important. Is it worth reading?
You should definitely buy it, if your place on the income distribution allows it. It looks good on a bookshelf, plus every copy sold makes Piketty wealthier, allowing us to discover whether this alters his views about inequality.
At the moment those views involve a lot of alarm about the growing income divide and a decided equanimity about raising taxes. The professors write that general laws, which is how they characterize Piketty's postulations, "are unhelpful as a guide to understand the past or predict the future because they ignore the central role of political and economic institutions in shaping the evolution of technology and the distribution of resources in a society".
Paul Romer criticises that while the data and empirical analysis is presented with admirable clarity and precision, the theory is presented in less detail. In his opinion the work was written with the attitude "Empirical work is science; theory is entertainment" and therefore an example for Mathiness. Lawrence Blume and Steven Durlauf criticized the book in the Journal of Political Economy for being "unpersuasive when it turns from description to analysis Both of us are very liberal in the contemporary as opposed to classical sense , and we regard ourselves as egalitarians.
We are therefore disturbed that Piketty has undermined the egalitarian case with weak empirical, analytical, and ethical arguments. German economist Stefan Homburg criticizes Piketty for equating wealth with capital. Homburg argues that wealth does not only embrace capital goods in the sense of produced means of production , but also land and other natural resources.
Homburg argues that observed increases in wealth income ratios reflect rising land prices and not an accumulation of machinery. Stiglitz endorses this view, pointing out that "a large fraction of the increase in wealth is an increase in the value of land, not in the amount of capital goods". This idea is furthered by Matthew Rognlie , then a graduate student at M. Rognlie also found that "surging house prices are almost entirely responsible for growing returns on capital.
Marxist academic David Harvey , while praising the book for demolishing "the widely-held view that free market capitalism spreads the wealth around and that it is the great bulwark for the defense of individual liberties and freedoms," is largely critical of Piketty for, among other things, his "mistaken definition of capital", which Harvey describes as:.
Piketty defines capital as the stock of all assets held by private individuals, corporations and governments that can be traded in the market no matter whether these assets are being used or not. And he has certainly not produced a working model for capital of the twenty-first century. For that, we still need Marx or his modern-day equivalent". Harvey also takes Piketty to task for dismissing Marx's Das Kapital without ever having read it. In a similar vein, philosopher Nicholas Vrousalis faults Piketty's remedies for misconstruing the kind of political "counter-agency" required to remove the inequalities Piketty criticizes and for thinking that they are compatible with capitalism.
On May 23, , Chris Giles, economics editor of the Financial Times FT , identified what he claims are "unexplained errors" in Piketty's data, in particular regarding wealth inequality increases since the s. The data The FT found mistakes and unexplained entries in his spreadsheets, similar to those which last year undermined the work on public debt and growth of Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff.
The central theme of Prof Piketty's work is that wealth inequalities are heading back up to levels last seen before the World War I. The investigation undercuts this claim, indicating there is little evidence in Prof Piketty's original sources to bear out the thesis that an increasing share of total wealth is held by the richest few.
Piketty wrote a response defending his findings and arguing that subsequent studies he links to Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman 's March presentation, The Distribution of US Wealth, Capital Income and Returns since confirm his conclusions about increasing wealth inequality and actually show a greater increase in inequality for the United States than he does in his book. The accusation received wide press coverage. However the book was so long; perhaps what I am asking for would be another book in and of itself.
My one regret was not taking notes. Excellent work. Piketty discusses who has the money, what impact their wealth has on the world at large, what should or should not be done so that the money can help the masses but also remain concentrated enough to fund space, education, etc.
As an aside, it was interesting for me to read about the same pattern, in which over and over rich individuals who amass great fortunes and get to decide what advancement will take place on a national and even global level. For example, Andrew Carnegie is portrayed as a careless tyrant who grew his fortune, only to give it to the masses in controlled, thought out ways that changed the face of education, the space program, and so on.
Bill Gates is doing the same thing now. Mark Zukerberg just made the news for allocating his 45 billion dollar fortune to various causes. Absolutely worth your time, money, and effort to read this book. It is a deep shame that the Financial Times' critique of Piketty's data is going to put some people off from buying and listening to this book, because a few quibbles about a very small amount of the data on the UK only doesn't detract from the validity of this detailed piece of analysis.
It won't matter that many other well-respected economists defend Piketty's use of the data, or the robustness of his argument. It's a long book, and it takes some concentration to listen to. Looking at the linked PDFs help to bring the stats and numbers to life. But I found it incredibly worthwhile. And that is something not even Piketty's most vehement detractors can argue against. Nor did I find Piketty's conclusions and suggestions even close to being the 'radical marxist' ones that he's been accused of holding by the press.
He's conscious of the fundamental value of entrepreneurship, of a vibrant market. When all is said and done, this book will polarize its readers along ideological lines. Because ultimately he's asking the question: what do we want our society to look like? He argues very persuasively that many of the ways we have sought to establish fairness and meritocracy in society have been ineffective in the long run.
This book threatens those who continue to perpetuate the myth that there are even playing fields: that financial success is based on merit, that opportunity is available to everyone, that trickle-down economics works, that education is the great leveler. There are good reasons why certain groups find this book threatening. It erodes the very thin veneer that the free market is truly free. But it is also a very optimistic book. Piketty offers some very 'unradical' solutions for how to mitigate the problem of rapidly accelerating wealth concentration.
It's not a 'downer' at all. The narration is good for such a long and complex book. Well chosen to be easy on the ears but still engage the concentration. I found it well worth the credit and the time I spent on it. I gave this audiobook 5 stars even though it's not perfect. Here's why. Obviously audiobook is not the perfect format for a wonky macroeconomic tome with lots of graphs and numbers. Even though it comes with pdf files for the charts, that's not much help when you're listening in the car.
But the glass of water half full is that I wouldn't have had the time to read this book, so listening is better than nothing. And this book has great merit. We've all read the criticism of the author's predictions and extrapolations. That was predictable because of the reflexive reaction by conservatives, and also the carping economists who would never dream of having a best seller on their hands, thus turning into to haters.
Even if you ignore the author's prediction that US wealth is and will continue to become more concentrated in the clutches of the one-percenters, this book is valuable for its fascinating explanation of the history of wealth stratification. That alone taught me a great deal and helps explain where any why the world economy is.
In brief, wealth has always tended to rise to the top. It was only because of the "economic shocks" of the two World Wars that the American and European middle classes got a temporary bigger piece of the pie.
Add to this the fact that emerging economies are merely catching up to us explains why Americans have anxiety about not being so far ahead of the rest of the world. This book is a great history lesson. Don't prejudge it just because, in the end, the author makes some value judgments. Learning is great fun. At least I think so. This is one of those scholarly books that seem to end up being accidental cultural markers of time and place. But, I'm pretty sure neither the author or the publisher was expecting it to do sell like it did whether it gets read is another matter.
My guess is this book will stimulate a lot of debate about the real nature and scope of income and capital inequality AND debate about the proper roll of government in addressing these issues.
What I loved about this book was Piketty's voice. His narrative style. The fact he rejected the theoretical speculation favored by a lot of modern economists and instead went with a historical and data-centric narrative, gave this book juice. He wrote an economics book that demands to be read.
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