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Capital in the Twenty-First Century Hardcover – 18 Mar 2014


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 696 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (18 Mar 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067443000X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674430006
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 16.5 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (121 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 134 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

WINNER OF THE FINANCIAL TIMES AND MCKINSEY BUSINESS BOOK OF THE YEAR 2014

SHORTLISTED FOR WATERSTONES BOOK OF THE YEAR 2014

Chosen as a book of 2014 in Observer, Financial Times, The Economist, Daily Telegraph and Sunday Times

"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

"The author, an inequality expert, is distinguished. The work is acclaimed. The book's empirical detail is already the stuff of legend." -- Karl Smith, Financial Times Blog Alphaville

"(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. (...) 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." --Lord Robert Skidelsky, Prospect

"Thomas Piketty who spent long years, during which the mainstream neglected inequality, mapping the distribution of income is making waves with Capital in the 21st Century. Nodding at Marx, that title helps explain the attention, but his decidedly classical emphasis on historical dynamics in determining who gets what resonates in a world where an increasing proportion of citizens are feeling fleeced by the elite." --The Guardian

"The Frenchman's new book Capital in the 21st Century is already causing a stir. Some reviewers have called it the economic book of the year, others of the decade. Piketty's ground-breaking work on the historical evolution of income distribution is impressive." --Paul Sweeney, Irish Times

"With an extraordinary sweep of history backed by remarkably detailed data and analysis, Piketty shows that, for several centuries leading up to World War I, the financial returns to the owners of capital exceeded the rate of growth of modern economies, creating a wide divergence between incomes and wealth and, with that divergence, widening inequality between those owners and people who worked for a living... Piketty's economic analysis and historical proofs are breathtaking." ----Robert B Reich, The Guardian

"Piketty's book Capital is being acclaimed as the most important work of political economy to be published in decades. It has certainly caught the attention of Ed Miliband's inner circle."--Nick Pearce, New Statesman

"Thomas Piketty's Capital is a compelling, evidence based critique of capitalism...It is packed with anecdotes and literary references that illuminate the narrative. It also helps that it is fluently translated by Arthur Goldhammer, a literary stylist who has tackled the works of the likes of Albert Camus." --Andrew Hussey, Observer

"French economist Thomas Piketty has written an extraordinarily important book. Open-minded readers will surely find themselves unable to ignore the evidence and arguments he has brought to bear." -- Martin Wolf, Financial Times

"If you haven't heard of Thomas Piketty, the chances are you will before long. A French economist turning in a book of 640 closely-argued pages might not sound like author of the month, but Capital in the Twenty-First Century is one of those works that catches a moment." -- Ian Bell, Glasgow Herald

Piketty has won interest and enthusiasm on the left of the political spectrum...for this ambitious work. It is not, however, a politically sectarian argument; perhaps that explains why it has become a surprise bestseller. The strength of his thesis is that it is founded on evidence rather than ideology. Piketty has researched data over more than a century in order to derive his understanding of the dynamics of modern capitalism. He is able to point convincingly to a recent reversal of historical trends, so that the share of national income taken by the owners of capital has expanded over the past generation... What Piketty has done is provide a strong factual understanding for how modern capitalist economies diverge from the image of risk-taking and productive commercial activity. At the very least, the book effectively debunks the notion that there is an economic imperative for low tax rates and a smaller state. Oliver Kamm, The Times

A book of such magisterial sweep... Piketty deserves huge credit for kickstarting a debate about inequality and illuminating the distribution of income and wealth. Stephanie Flanders, The Guardian

Magisterial... Bursting with ideas... This book is economics at its best. Philip Roscoe, Times Higher Education

Seven hundred pages on the evolution of inequality in economically advanced societies by the most fashionable new theorist to emerge for a long time. Many have been waiting for such a comprehensive critique of capitalism. --David Sexton, The Evening Standard

Piketty s book Capital is being acclaimed as the most important work of political economy to be published in decades. It has certainly caught the attention of Ed Miliband s inner circle. --Nick Pearce, New Statesman, April 2014

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Customer Reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

184 of 211 people found the following review helpful By A. D. Thibeault on 26 Mar 2014
Format: Hardcover
The main argument: The unequal distribution of wealth in the developed world has become a significant issue in recent years. Indeed, the data indicate that in the past 30 years the incomes of the wealthiest have surged into the stratosphere (and the higher up in the income hierarchy one is, the greater the increase has been), while the incomes of the large majority have stagnated. This has led to a level of inequality in wealth in the developed world not seen since the eve of the Great Depression. This much is without dispute.

Where there is dispute is in trying to explain just why the rise in inequality has taken place (and whether, and to what degree, it will continue in the future); and, even more importantly, whether it is justified. These questions are not merely academic, for the way in which we answer them informs public debate as well as policy measures--and also influences more violent reactions. Indeed, we need look no further than the recent Occupy Movement to see that the issue of increasing inequality is not only pressing, but potentially incendiary.

Given the import and the polarizing nature of the issue of inequality, it is all the more crucial that we begin by way of shedding as much light on the situation as possible. This is the impetus behind Thomas Piketty's new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

One of Piketty's main concerns in the book is to put the issue of inequality in its broader historical context. Specifically, the author traces how inequality has evolved from the agrarian societies of the 18th and early 19th centuries; through the Industrial Revolution and up to the First World War; throughout the interwar years; and into the second half of the twentieth century (and up to the first part of the twenty-first).
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206 of 244 people found the following review helpful By Geoff Crocker on 12 May 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Thomas Picketty offers the disclaimer that his book is ‘as much a work of history as of economics’ (p33) which he then goes on to prove. He introduces his 2 core economic equations and asks readers not well versed in mathematics not to immediately close the book. It is in fact readers who are well versed in mathematics who might well close the book, since his equations make no sense and cannot bear the weight of interpretation he places on them throughout the book. They are core to his argument, but they fail. He nowhere derives them, proves them, or empirically tests them. He merely states them.

According to Picketty, the ‘first fundamental law of capitalism’ (p52) is that α=rxβ where α is the share of capital in national income, r is the rate of return on capital, and β is Picketty’s capital/income ratio. This is a simple identity, is no more than telling us that a/b x b = a. Picketty admits this identity and tautology but nevertheless insists that this is the ‘first fundamental law of capitalism’, a claim he simply cannot justify. His ‘second fundamental law of capitalism’ (p166) is that β=s/g where s is the savings rate and g the growth rate. His example claims that a savings rate of 12% and a growth rate of 2% give a capital/income ratio of 600%. This is simply untrue. A simple spreadsheet taking 100 units of GDP growing in row 1 at 2%/year, showing 12% saving of that GDP in row 2, cumulating that in row 3 and dividing the result by row 1 to give Picketty’s capital/income ratio in row 4, shows that it becomes 600% only in year 199. Not only does this ‘fundamental law’ take so long to be true, as Picketty admits, but it is only true in that year and thereafter continues to grow, contrary to his claim that it reaches a long term equilibrium.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful By M G Harriss on 23 Sep 2014
Format: Hardcover
Don’t be misled by this flawed masterpiece.

Piketty’s masterly work on Capital is an important and influential book. Among other things, it provides much of the theoretical framework for François Hollande’s socialist economic policies in France, make of that what you will. It should be noted from the start that the author is not only a distinguished professor of economics at the Sorbonne, but also an out-and-out socialist. What may well be rigorous economic analysis is laced heavily throughout with leftish assumptions that many people will not share, but which Piketty makes little attempt to justify or discuss.

Although his title is ‘Capital in the twenty-first century’, Piketty’s actual subject is the inequality and injustice of wealth distribution. Such injustice is as old as the hills. In a famous biblical passage quoted by George Orwell, the ancient preacher says “I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race goes not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither bread to the hungry, nor yet riches to the wise…, but time and chance happeneth to all”. Piketty clearly finds time and chance upsetting and the accumulation of capital intolerable. After a long survey of economic history, he announces his own solution to the problem, one which most people will find hopelessly unworkable -a steeply rising global tax on wealth.

I am not personally qualified to comment on the validity of the economics in the book, except to note that it has been strongly criticised by other economists, notably by James Galbraith at Texas, and in the Financial Times.
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