Capital in the Twenty-first Century
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What are the grand dynamics that drive the accumulation and distribution of capital? Questions about the long-term evolution of inequality, the concentration of wealth, and the prospects for economic growth lie at the heart of political economy. But satisfactory answers have been hard to find for lack of adequate data and clear guiding theories. In his lecture, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data in twenty countries, ranging as far back as the eighteenth century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings are raising issues for the next generation of thought about wealth and inequality. Piketty shows that modern economic growth and the diffusion of knowledge have allowed us to avoid inequalities on the apocalyptic scale predicted by Karl Marx. But we have not modified the deep structures of capital and inequality as much as we thought in the optimistic decades following World War II. The main driver of inequality – the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth – today threatens to generate extreme inequalities that stir discontent and undermine democratic values. But economic trends are not acts of God. Political action has curbed dangerous inequalities in the past and may do so again.
Thomas Piketty is Professor at the Paris School of Economics. He specializes in economic inequality, with his works in this domain covering both theoretical and normative issues. Among his publications are Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2014), Capital is Back: Wealth-Income Ratios in Rich Countries 1700–2010 (with G. Zucman, 2013), Top Incomes: A Global Perspective (with T. Atkinson, 2010), On the Long-Run Evolution of Inheritance: France 1820–2050 (2010).