Why everyone is talking about Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century

The French economist's magnum opus explains the history of income inequality — and represents a real threat to the reign of the 1 percent

Marx
(Image credit: (Illustration by Sarah Eberspacher | Photos Courtesy adoc-photos/Corbis, Andrew Burton/Getty Images))

The English translation of French economist Thomas Piketty's magnum opus Capital in the Twenty-First Century is finally out, and it's made an enormous splash (see reviews here, here, and here). It's a brilliant, surprisingly readable work that synthesizes a staggering amount of careful research to make the case that income inequality is no accident. Indeed, Piketty argues that it is a feature of capitalism itself — unless governments take action to rein in capitalism's excesses.

That may sound like an obvious point to you. But the value of Piketty's work is that it shows that capitalism's postwar heyday — in which incomes at the bottom and the top actually converged — was a historical anomaly. Piketty's analysis of the last two centuries makes the case that capital in its natural state does not tend to spread out or trickle down, but to concentrate in the hands of a few.

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