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Capital in the Twenty-First Century [Kindle Edition]

Thomas Piketty , Arthur Goldhammer
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,247 customer reviews)

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Book Description

The main driver of inequality--returns on capital that exceed the rate of economic growth--is again threatening to generate extreme discontent and undermine democratic values. Thomas Piketty's findings in this ambitious, original, rigorous work will transform debate and set the agenda for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality.

Editorial Reviews


A seminal book on the economic and social evolution of the planet… A masterpiece. (Emmanuel Todd Marianne)

The book of the season. (Telerama)

Outstanding… A political and theoretical bulldozer. (Mediapart)

An explosive argument. (Liberation)

In this magisterial work, Thomas Piketty has performed a great service to the academy and to the public. He has written a pioneering book that is at once thoughtful, measured, and provocative. The force of his case rests not on a diatribe or a political agenda, but on carefully collected and analyzed data and reasoned thought. The book should have a major impact on our discussions of contemporary inequality and its meaning for our democratic institutions and ideals. I can only marvel at Piketty’s discipline and rigor in researching and writing it. (Rakesh Khurana, Harvard Business School)

This book is not only the definitive account of the historical evolution of inequality in advanced economies, it is also a magisterial treatise on capitalism’s inherent dynamics. Piketty ends his book with a ringing call for the global taxation of capital. Whether or not you agree with him on the solution, this book presents a stark challenge for those who would like to save capitalism from itself. (Dani Rodrik, Institute for Advanced Study)

Anyone remotely interested in economics needs to read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century. (Matthew Yglesias Slate 2014-02-10)

The book aims to revolutionize the way people think about the economic history of the past two centuries. It may well manage the feat…It is, first and foremost, a very detailed look at 200 years’ worth of data on the distribution of income and wealth across the rich world (with some figures for large emerging markets also included). This mountain of data allows Piketty to tell a simple and compelling story…The database on which the book is built is formidable, and it is difficult to dispute his call for a new perspective on the modern economic era, whether or not one agrees with his policy recommendations… We are all used to sneering at communism because of its manifest failure to deliver the sustained rates of growth managed by market economies. But Marx’s original critique of capitalism was not that it made for lousy growth rates. It was that a rising concentration of wealth couldn’t be sustained politically. Ultimately, those of us who would like to preserve the market system need to grapple with that sort of dynamic, in the context of the worrying numbers on inequality that Piketty presents. (The Economist 2014-01-09)

Piketty, a prominent economist, explains the tendency in mature societies for wealth to concentrate in a few hands. (Amy Merrick New Yorker 2014-02-06)

Defies left and right orthodoxy by arguing that worsening inequality is an inevitable outcome of free market capitalism…[It] suggests that traditional liberal government policies on spending, taxation and regulation will fail to diminish inequality…Without what [Piketty] acknowledges is a politically unrealistic global wealth tax, he sees the United States and the developed world on a path toward a degree of inequality that will reach levels likely to cause severe social disruption. Final judgment on Piketty’s work will come with time--a problem in and of itself, because if he is right, inequality will worsen, making it all the more difficult to take preemptive action. (Thomas B. Edsall New York Times 2014-01-28)

It is a great work, a fearsome beast of analysis stuffed with an awesome amount of empirical data, and will surely be a landmark study in economics. (The Week 2014-02-20)

Groundbreaking…The usefulness of economics is determined by the quality of data at our disposal. Piketty’s new volume offers a fresh perspective and a wealth of newly compiled data that will go a long way in helping us understand how capitalism actually works. (Christopher Matthews 2014-02-26)

A sweeping account of rising inequality…Eventually, Piketty says, we could see the reemergence of a world familiar to nineteenth-century Europeans; he cites the novels of Austen and Balzac. In this ‘patrimonial society,’ a small group of wealthy rentiers lives lavishly on the fruits of its inherited wealth, and the rest struggle to keep up…The proper role of public intellectuals is to question accepted dogmas, conceive of new methods of analysis, and expand the terms of public debate. Capital in the Twenty-first Century does all these things…Piketty has written a book that nobody interested in a defining issue of our era can afford to ignore. (John Cassidy New Yorker 2014-03-31)

It seems safe to say that Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the magnum opus of the French economist Thomas Piketty, will be the most important economics book of the year--and maybe of the decade. Piketty, arguably the world’s leading expert on income and wealth inequality, does more than document the growing concentration of income in the hands of a small economic elite. He also makes a powerful case that we’re on the way back to ‘patrimonial capitalism,’ in which the commanding heights of the economy are dominated not just by wealth, but also by inherited wealth, in which birth matters more than effort and talent. (Paul Krugman New York Times 2014-03-23)

A landmark book…which brings a ton of data to bear in reaching the commonsensical conclusion that inequality has to do with more than just blind market forces at work. (George Packer New Yorker blog 2014-03-25)

Bracing…Piketty provides a fresh and sweeping analysis of the world’s economic history that puts into question many of our core beliefs about the organization of market economies. His most startling news is that the belief that inequality will eventually stabilize and subside on its own, a long-held tenet of free market capitalism, is wrong. Rather, the economic forces concentrating more and more wealth into the hands of the fortunate few are almost sure to prevail for a very long time. (Eduardo Porter New York Times 2014-03-11)

Piketty’s new book is an important contribution to understanding what we need to do to produce more growth, wider economic opportunity and greater social stability. (David Cay Johnston Al Jazeera America 2014-03-23)

The blockbuster economics book of the season, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, argues that the great equalizing decades following World War II, which brought on the rise of the middle class in the United States, were but a historical anomaly. Armed with centuries of data, Piketty says the rich are going to continue to gobble up a greater share of income, and our current system will do nothing to reverse that trend. (Shaila Dewan New York Times Magazine 2014-03-30)

Rarely does a book come along…that completely alters the paradigm through which we frame our worldview. Thomas Piketty’s magisterial study of the structure of capitalism since the 18th century, Capital in the 21st Century, is such a book…As leaders from Pope Francis to Barack Obama have proclaimed, growing inequality is the defining issue of our time. Much indeterminate discussion has swirled around its key causes, from job-displacing technologies to wage-deflating outsourcing of jobs. Capital in the 21st Century clears up all the confused thinking and presents us with the most compelling analysis to date of the key dynamic that drives ever-increasing inequality. This book is more than a must read. It is a manual for action that provides a fresh framework for the new politics of the 21st Century. (Nathan Gardels The WorldPost 2014-03-24)

[Piketty’s] thesis is simple. The growing concentration of capital in fewer hands has enabled its owners to keep it relatively scarce and thus valuable…Continuing high inequality is socially and economically destabilizing, though it need not lead to Marx’s apocalypse. So what we need is another bout of social democracy especially in the form of progressive taxation. You many think that it doesn’t require 600 pages to get this message across. This would be wrong. The strength of Piketty’s book is his close attention to the different sources of inequality, the massive documentation underpinning his history and conclusions, and his impressive culls from sociology and literature, which exhibit the richness of ‘political economy’ compared to its thin mathematical successor that has attained such prominence…Piketty’s book is a timely intervention in the current debate about inequality and its causes. (Robert Skidelsky Prospect 2014-04-01)

Over the last decade or so, economist Thomas Piketty has made his name central to serious discussions of inequality…Piketty expands upon his empirical work of the last 10 years, while also setting forth a political theory of inequality. This last element of the book gives special attention to tax policy and makes some provocative suggestions--new and higher taxes on the very rich. (Joseph Thorndike Forbes 2014-03-26)

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…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…He has starkly and convincingly outlined the stakes for future generations. Either we’ll have a new birth of reformed capitalism…or we’ll have wealth concentration on such a colossal scale that it will threaten the democratic order. (Ryan Cooper The Week 2014-03-25)

Thomas Piketty’s new book, Capital in the 21st Century, painstakingly details the dynamics of wealth and income inequality throughout the last two centuries, and offers a somewhat grim picture of the future of economic inequality. Along the way, Piketty also offers his theory of the cause of exploding executive pay and how we can successfully combat this destructive trend. (Matt Bruenig The Week 2014-03-20)

In Capital in the Twenty-first Century, Piketty sums up his research, tracing the history and pattern of economic inequality across a number of countries from the eighteenth century to the present, analyzing its causes, and evaluating some policy fixes. Spanning nearly 700 densely packed pages, it’s a big book in more than one sense of the word. Clearly written, ambitious in scope, rooted in economics but drawing on insights from related fields like history and sociology, Piketty’s Capital resembles nothing so much as an old-fashioned work of political economy by the likes of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, or John Maynard Keynes. But what is particularly exciting about this book is that, due to advances in technology, Piketty is able to draw on data that not only spans a substantially longer historical time frame, but is also necessarily more complete and consistent than the records earlier theorists were forced to rely on. As a result, his analysis is significantly more comprehensive than those of his predecessors--and easily as persuasive…Capital is a consistently engrossing read, encompassing topics including the stunning comeback that inherited wealth has made in today’s advanced economies, the dubiousness of the economic theory that a worker’s wage is equal to his or her marginal productivity, the moral insidiousness of meritocratic justifications of inequality, and more. But the book’s major strength lies in Piketty’s ability to see the big picture. His original and rigorously well-documented insights into the deep structures of capitalism show us how the dynamics of capital accumulation have played out historically over the past three centuries, and how they’re likely to develop in the century to come…America’s twenty-first-century inequality crisis is, if anything, even more daunting and complex than the one we experienced a century ago. But as Piketty reminds us, the solutions to this problem are political, and they lie within our grasp. Should Americans choose to deploy those solutions, not only would we be doing the right thing, we’d be living up to our deepest traditions and most cherished ideals.” (Kathleen Geier Washington Monthly 2014-03-01)

The most eagerly anticipated book on economics in many years. (Toby Sanger Globe and Mail 2014-03-11)

Though an heir to Tocqueville’s tradition of analytic history, Thomas Piketty has a message that could not be more different: Unless we act, inequality will grow much worse, eventually making a mockery of our democratic institutions. With wealth more and more concentrated, countries racing to cut taxes on capital, and inheritance coming to rival entrepreneurship as a source of riches, a new patrimonial elite may prove as inevitable as Tocqueville once believed democratic equality was. This forecast is based not on speculation but on facts assembled through prodigious research…Private wealth has reached new highs relative to national income and is approaching levels of concentration not seen since before 1929…Piketty is rightly pessimistic about an immediate response. The influence of the wealthy on democratic politics and on how we think about merit and reward presents formidable obstacles…Perhaps with this magisterial book, the troubling realities Piketty unearths will become more visible and the rationalizations of the privileged that sustain them less dominant. Like Tocqueville, Piketty has given us a new image of ourselves. This time, it’s one we should resist, not welcome. (Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson American Prospect 2014-03-01)

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is written in the tradition of great economic texts… Piketty and his colleagues have spent recent years putting together a World Top Incomes Database, their detailed investigation into income in countries around the globe, spanning several decades…Informed by this historical, cross-country data, Piketty evaluates--and rejects--a number of generally accepted conclusions in economic thought, while being careful to note the limitations of inevitably “imperfect and incomplete” sources. The main finding of his investigation is that capital still matters…This book is significant for its findings, as well as for how Piketty arrives at them. It’s easy--and fun--to argue about ideas. It is much more difficult to argue about facts. Facts are what Piketty gives us, while pressing the reader to engage in the journey of sorting through their implications. (Heather Boushey American Prospect 2014-03-01)

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a monumental book that will influence economic analysis (and perhaps policymaking) in the years to come. In the way it is written and the importance of the questions it asks, it is a book the classic authors of economics could have written if they lived today and had access to the vast empirical material Piketty and his colleagues collected…In a short review, it is impossible to do even partial justice to the wealth of information, data, analysis, and discussion contained in this book of almost 700 pages. Piketty has returned economics to the classical roots where it seeks to understand the ‘laws of motion’ of capitalism. He has re-emphasized the distinction between ‘unearned’ and ‘earned’ income that had been tucked away for so long under misleading terminologies of ‘human capital,’ ‘economic agents,’ and ‘factors of production.’ Labor and capital—those who have to work for a living and those who live from property--people in flesh--are squarely back in economics via this great book. (Branko Milanovic American Prospect 2014-03-01)

[An] enormously important book. (Doug Henwood Bookforum 2014-04-01)

How does a rigorous, seven-hundred page economic history become a lionized hit? Through the canny voice of professor Thomas Piketty, and his demystification of inherited wealth, Karl Marx’s true legacy, and what we mean when we talk about monetary ‘growth’ and ‘inequality.’ (Barnes and Noble Review 2014-03-26)

About the Author

Thomas Piketty is Professor at the Paris School of Economics.

Product Details

  • File Size: 3974 KB
  • Print Length: 696 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 10, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #387 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1,580 of 1,830 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truly unique work for this generation April 24, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
EDIT: I would like to point out that it is ridiculous that literally all of the 1-star reviews (except for one that I counted) for this book are from people who did not purchase the book or even read it. It looks like there was some kind of invasion from April 22nd of right-wingers who were told this book is "communist" or something to make a 1-star vote just to bring down the rating of the book. Amazon should not allow this kind of manipulation, and should limit reviews only to those who are verified customers that purchased this book.

If I could give more than 5 stars I would. As a former Libertarian who realized the path quickly leads to oligarchy with such an ideology, Piketty's book is a wonderful reminder of just how wrong I was back then.

The empirical work he has done in assembling the income and wealth concentration for countries is simply invaluable. We have some data like gini and labor vs. capital income, but to meticulously collect and analyze specific percentiles of income and wealth in many nations is truly groundbreaking. No longer can people who deny the inequality we have in the United States. No longer can people deny that we are in a new gilded age. The regulatory capture in our wild west capitalism has led to outright corruption being "legalized", and the politicians merely keep deregulating, cutting taxes, cutting spending on public programs.

Piketty not only provides the important data, and the historical context and analysis, but makes some very clear policy prescriptions. Tax inheritances, get some sane corporate governance standards to stop the insane overpaying of executives, and strengthen public institutions that provide opportunity to the masses.

Remember, the r in r>g is AFTER TAX.
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993 of 1,170 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This is a monumental work about inequality. Despite the title's allusion to Marx's classic (a point emphasized by the dust jacket design), it's neither a primarily theoretical nor a primarily polemical work, though it has elements of both theory and advocacy. Nor is its author (TP) a radical: he taught at MIT, and is thoroughly at home in the concepts and categories of mainstream neoclassical theory. Nonetheless, I think even many who hold less orthodox views about economics will find this book stimulating, valuable and sympathetic in many respects. And all readers ought to find it disturbing.

In the ultra-long comments below, I begin with the book's audience and style (§ 1); then turn to some of the book's main arguments, which are more nuanced than usually reported (§§ 2-6); then to some things that are unclear or missing (§§ 7-8); and I end with some comments about the book's production (§ 9) and some concluding remarks.

1. In the original French edition, TP says that he intended this book to be readable for persons without any particular technical knowledge. In principle, it could be read by a broad, college-educated audience. TP's prose is very clear and direct, with a low density of jargon and a high density of information. (I read the French edition, but Arthur Goldhammer's translation seems to preserve these qualities very well.) The discussion is enlivened by well-chosen references to literature and a sprinkling of sarcastic barbs, both of them techniques that French scholars have developed into art forms (if not as elegant as John Kenneth Galbraith's irony).
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1,000 of 1,182 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A relentless drive toward inequality March 11, 2014
By Adam
Format:Kindle Edition
Thomas Piketty's "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" is a brilliant analysis of the long term distribution of income and wealth. The book draws on reams of data from the United States and numerous other countries. Most of the data comes from income tax records and estate tax/inheritance records. The sheer quantity of data that underlies Piketty's conclusions is unprecedented, and as a result his work deserves a great deal of credibility.

While the book is quite long, the major conclusion can be summarized very briefly: Piketty has found that, over the long run, the return on capital is higher than the growth rate of the overall economy. In other words, accumulated and inherited wealth becomes a larger fraction of the economic pie over time. This happens more or less automatically, and there is no reason to believe this trend will change or reverse course. Although Piketty does not focus on it, there is also an argument that modern technologies like robotics and AI could accelerate the process even more. (For more on this, I'd suggest also reading The Lights in the Tunnel: Automation, Accelerating Technology and the Economy of the Future).

Piketty argues that the reduction in inequality in developed countries after World War II was a "one-off" that was driven entirely by political choices and policies. It did not happen automatically. Those policies have now been largely reversed, especially in the United States. As a result the drive toward increased inequality is likely to be relentless.

Piketty's solution is a global wealth tax. While this seems politically unfeasible, he argues that it is the only thing likely to work.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
Ground-breaking book that the establishment doesn't want you to read because it might lead to a revolution.
Published 14 hours ago by joedoe
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Nice goods.
Published 15 hours ago by T. Logans
5.0 out of 5 stars It is meticulously researched yet written so that even those with...
Piketty' magnum opus is the authority on wage and income disparity in Europe and the US. It is meticulously researched yet written so that even those with little knowledge of... Read more
Published 1 day ago by Christiane Glaros
4.0 out of 5 stars An excellent overview
An excellent review of modern economics and how to approach the economic disparities between and within nations.
Published 3 days ago by Jesse Liberty
5.0 out of 5 stars 100 percent pure guillotine lubricant.
Jeff Bezos, this is a wonderful company you've built, and I'll drink a toast to you from the skulls of your heirs.

Alternately: What's the matter, Mr. Piketty? Read more
Published 3 days ago by Ian F. Finnesey
5.0 out of 5 stars Piketty really does a great job of integrating data from many sources...
This is a phantastic analysis of 300 years of economic history. Although projections for the remaining of the Twentieth first century are quite uncertain, Piketty really does a... Read more
Published 4 days ago by Menathar
5.0 out of 5 stars Very thoughtful presentation that hopefully changes the direction of...
Hard to imagine that tossing another review onto the pile is going to make a difference, but here goes...

First of all, I am an engineer, not an economist. Read more
Published 6 days ago by Jim Short
3.0 out of 5 stars Hidden Socialism
Where to begin on this one?

I found this book on the NYT bestseller list and decided to pick it up. I should have known better as it is written by a French economist. Read more
Published 6 days ago by Robert Sparrenberger
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Revealing historical perspectives......
Published 6 days ago by Jim D. Venne
5.0 out of 5 stars As Remarkable as the Experts Claim
The amount of economic, historical, and sociopolitical data contained in this book is astounding. Thomas Piketty has effectively synthesized the total available history of capital... Read more
Published 7 days ago by Chauncey
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Can Amazon come in and clean up these "reviews"?
Most of these listen to rush he told them what to do about 2hrs ago.
Apr 24, 2014 by edwin j jones iv |  See all 13 posts
Graphics on Kindle edition
I had the same concern but decided to bite the bullet (too impatient to await the second printing). The graphs work well on both my mini-laptop and on my Android cell phone. For the latter, I can turn the phone horizontal and get a pretty good view. Clicking on the graphic opens it in a new... Read More
Apr 23, 2014 by salsabob |  See all 3 posts
really how much could it cost to produce an electronic version of the book ... it should be sold at a much lower price given that I can not share it with my wife or friends
Apr 25, 2014 by Jeff L. Seifert |  See all 13 posts
Footnotes don't work
This is really annoying particularly in a book with this many insightful end notes.
May 2, 2014 by ose |  See all 8 posts
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