If I had nothing more specific in mind, it would verge on being trite–or perhaps achieve triteness with margin to spare–to identify Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century as a 2014 publication worth noting at Jotwell. At least as of early spring, the reviews–predictably laudatory from the left, and cautious or critical from the right–have been sprouting like dandelions in Central Park, and there have also been regular (indeed, almost daily) features about Piketty and his opus, appearing in periodicals of all kinds. Most readers no doubt already know that Piketty has combined a compilation of groundbreaking empirical research about wealth distribution in multiple countries over the last few centuries with an important and provocative thesis about the likely (or at least a possible) future.
Piketty argues that high-end wealth concentration has a tendency to keep on augmenting itself in modern capitalist societies, at least for an indefinite time. He views the mid-twentieth century’s “Great Easing” of this process as reflecting distinctive and anomalous factors that make it unlikely to be repeated. He attributes it mainly to the era’s enormous shocks–in particular, the Great Depression and two calamitous world wars–and secondarily to the pursuit of economic and regulatory policies that deliberately sacrificed neoclassical market efficiency in pursuit of other objectives, or else in response to concerns about market failure that came to be dismissed with the rise of such political leaders as Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher. Continue reading "The Return of Capital"