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 Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty analyzes a unique collection of data from 20 countries, ranging as far back as the 18th century, to uncover key economic and social patterns. His findings will transform debate and set the agenda 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, Piketty says, and may do so again.
A work of extraordinary ambition, originality, and rigor, Capital in the Twenty-First Century reorients our understanding of economic history and confronts us with sobering lessons for today.
©2014 the President and Fellows of Harvard College (P)2014 Audible, Inc.
"L.J. Ganser's voice and accents are superb, and emphasis is well placed." (AudioFile)
It is a deep shame that the Financial Times' critique of Piketty's data is going to put some people off from buying and listening to this book, because a few quibbles about a very small amount of the data (on the UK only) doesn't detract from the validity of this detailed piece of analysis. It won't matter that many other well-respected economists defend Piketty's use of the data, or the robustness of his argument. For the readers of the FT, for those who represent the top 10% of weathholders, or those who aspire to be one of them, this book is a fundamental threat to their plans.
It's a long book, and it takes some concentration to listen to. Looking at the linked PDFs help to bring the stats and numbers to life. But I found it incredibly worthwhile. The central argument - that R>G (capital always trumps growth) is successfully and persuasively argued six ways from Sunday. And that is something not even Piketty's most vehement detractors can argue against.
Nor did I find Piketty's conclusions and suggestions even close to being the 'radical marxist' ones that he's been accused of holding by the press. He's conscious of the fundamental value of entrepreneurship, of a vibrant market.
When all is said and done, this book will polarize its readers along ideological lines. Because ultimately he's asking the question: what do we want our society to look like? He argues very persuasively that many of the ways we have sought to establish fairness and meritocracy in society have been ineffective in the long run.
This book threatens those who continue to perpetuate the myth that there are even playing fields: that financial success is based on merit, that opportunity is available to everyone, that trickle-down economics works, that education is the great leveler. There are good reasons why certain groups find this book threatening. It erodes the very thin veneer that the free market is truly free.
But it is also a very optimistic book. Piketty offers some very 'unradical' solutions for how to mitigate the problem of rapidly accelerating wealth concentration. It's not a 'downer' at all.
The narration is good for such a long and complex book. Well chosen to be easy on the ears but still engage the concentration. I found it well worth the credit and the time I spent on it.
I agree with the other reviewer who warned that the PDF has 106 pages of figures and tables and that the audio format may not be the best way to "read" this book.
However, in my case, there is no way for me, who is not an economist or a student, to get through 685 pages (577 pages of main text and figures plus notes, index, etc.) in the hardcover copy just by, uh, reading. While the audiobook's 25 hours is longer than the length of an average audiobook, I got through it in less than 10 days just by listening during my daily commute and chores, and I feel I got the gist of the content. It was interesting enough and, I felt I missed some important aspects of the argument depicted in the figures, so I went out and got a hardcopy and a notebook so that I can even take notes. Yes, this audiobook got me interested in this book.
An unexpected bonus of this book for me was the author's references to the characters and the financial/societal backdrops of stories by Jane Austen and Honoré de Balzac. I did not realize how much I missed and did not comprehend the important nuances of the stories from the 19th centuries world (or 18th or 20th for that matter). We don't usually pay attention to how culture is influenced by the distribution of capital in the society and how that affects day-to-day mood of people in it.
I noticed that this book has been greatly politicized. But to me, the book simply provides DATA-DRIVEN analyses and recommendations for a fair society.
But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - J.D. Salinger ^(;,;)^
This is one of those scholarly books that seem to end up being accidental cultural markers of time and place. I'm pretty sure Piketty wanted his book to be read/discussed/debated, and Belnap/Harvard Press certainly wanted it to be bought. But, I'm pretty sure neither the author or the publisher was expecting it to do sell like it did (whether it gets read is another matter). My guess is this book will stimulate a lot of debate about the real nature and scope of income and capital inequality AND debate about the proper roll of government in addressing these issues.
What I loved about this book was Piketty's voice. His narrative style. The fact he rejected the theoretical speculation favored by a lot of modern economists and instead went with a historical and data-centric narrative, gave this book juice. He wrote an economics book that demands to be read. I loved how he used literature (Balzac and Austen) as reference points for his thesis about the challenges with income and capital disparities between the 1% and the lower 50%. I loved his boldness. I mean really, it takes some scholarly, economic balls to name your book 'Capital'. It is like walking into a Liverpool pub with a Manchester Untied shirt on. Piketty was provocative right from the start.
Why didn't I rate this higher? I thought his proscriptive approach (Part IV) was a bit naive. I get what he is trying to do. He is setting the flag at the ideal point and letting the politics take care of itself, but his ideal isn't really even on this planet (not even on Planet France). I'm not sure the governing class in any of the major nations he dealt with will ever be ready for a large-scale capital tax, or a global system of taxing and studying incomes. There just isn't any stomach for that. Perhaps I'm a pessimist, but I think we are already governed by system of economic élite domination. It is more likely that a natural disaster, world war, or years of inflation are way more likely to change the current and growing capital inequality in the US and Europe than any preventative, rational, or progressive tax on wealth.
We can barely politically stomach a slight increase to capital gains/dividend tax rates without shutting down government and calls to impeach our president. A one-time, double-digit tax on wealth just won't happen in my lifetime. When 97% of scientists warn us about global warming, but because of vested energy interests and media complicity we find half of our nation believing it is all hype as the poles melt, what hope do we have in preventing millionaires and billionaires from accumulating more wealth? Most will remain ignorant of the problem, apathetic about how that type of income disparity harms democracy, and mostly antagonistic about changing what is perceived to be a meritocracy for a redistributive tax solution. Just not going to happen. I can't see it happening in France, let alone Britain, China or the US.
But that is just me venting my frustrations. The future IS the sole property of the future. I might be wrong. For the most part the book is already doing what he wanted. He's got FT writing and challenging his data. He has Paul Krugman giving supporting data. I'm reading his book instead of a Dan Brown novel. So, my bitching aside, his book has already done 10x what it had every practical right to do. It might just end up being the next John Rawls tome, read by economists, politicians and those tired of Dan Brown novels. I sure hope so.
I gave this audiobook 5 stars even though it's not perfect. Here's why.
Obviously audiobook is not the perfect format for a wonky macroeconomic tome with lots of graphs and numbers. Even though it comes with pdf files for the charts, that's not much help when you're listening in the car. But the glass of water half full is that I wouldn't have had the time to read this book, so listening is better than nothing. And this book has great merit.
We've all read the criticism of the author's predictions and extrapolations. That was predictable because of the reflexive reaction by conservatives, and also the carping economists who would never dream of having a best seller on their hands, thus turning into to haters.
Even if you ignore the author's prediction that US wealth is and will continue to become more concentrated in the clutches of the one-percenters, this book is valuable for its fascinating explanation of the history of wealth stratification. That alone taught me a great deal and helps explain where any why the world economy is. In brief, wealth has always tended to rise to the top. It was only because of the "economic shocks" of the two World Wars that the American and European middle classes got a temporary bigger piece of the pie. Add to this the fact that emerging economies are merely catching up to us explains why Americans have anxiety about not being so far ahead of the rest of the world.
This book is a great history lesson. Don't prejudge it just because, in the end, the author makes some value judgments. Learning is great fun. At least I think so.
Gen-Xer, software engineer, and lifelong avid reader. Soft spots for sci-fi, fantasy, and history, but I'll read anything good.
Spoiler alert: the takeaway from Thomas Piketty's dry but much-discussed book is what most citizens of the developed world already know: income and wealth inequality in first world countries, particularly the United States, are at levels not seen since the Gilded Age. As much as I've personally benefitted from globalism and technology, it’s obvious that the lion’s share of the profits from these trends has gone to a small elite, while many Americans are being left behind in an economy that no longer places great value on their skills (or gives a damn about educating their kids).
No doubt, the timing of the book’s publication has something to do with the big splash it made -- these are clearly issues on a lot of minds -- but Piketty brings some cool analysis to the current reality, helping the reader understand how to see it in terms of historical data. As he argues, all economic evidence suggests that this disparity is likely to continue to grow, driving modern countries towards a form of society not seen since 19th century Europe. There, he shows, there was less economic growth than in the 20th century, which meant that a small upper class that controlled most of the capital received most of the income, consolidating its dominance through inheritance. Piketty brilliantly illustrates this point with references to classic 19th century novels, wherein protagonists aren’t trying to better themselves in careers in which advancement is limited, but are focused on marrying well. Only the shock of two world wars ended this reality, creating a few decades of growth-through-rebuilding and relatively egalitarian prosperity for Western Europe and the US.
Piketty dives down into the weeds of numerical data, graphs, charts, and comparison tables to make his point, which doesn’t always make for an ideal audiobook listen. Though there’s a PDF supplement, dedicated readers might want to get the book in print. Still, the gist is clear. We can no longer count on the rapid expansion and population growth that drove the wheels of US industry in earlier days. Return on capital is now a better bet than return on growth in most sectors of a 21st century non-emerging economy, with the start-up costs for high-tech industries or rental properties favoring the already wealthy. Even the apparent exceptions, such as software development (my own field), kind of prove the rule, in the sense that they only provide jobs for a small class of highly-skilled workers, sometimes to the detriment of the less-skilled.
However, Piketty’s proposed solutions, as much as I agree with their goals, seem naive given current politics. He advocates more confiscatory taxes on the global top 1%, more transparency in the financial systems of all countries, and stronger international laws related to seizing the assets of tax dodgers. I don’t know about his fellow French citizens, but to even suggest to a certain segment of the US electorate that their country might not actually be a meritocracy, or that it be more subject to some international body of law, would trigger instant howling outrage. Never mind that most of that group will never be wealthy themselves -- they would still rather live in a decaying shack, imagining their interests to be aligned with those of the billionaire Koch Brothers, than ever agree with some “socialist” French academic.
Piketty emphasizes his faith in democracy, but there are a few things I wish he’d discussed more, even if they fall outside the purview of economics. The long-term implications of technological advances on the job market. The tendency of big government and big business to end up in bed with each other. How the people can take back ownership of the political system and the machinery of production without going down the failed route of Communism.
Still, I’m glad this book is being talked about. If the Boomer Generation is still earnestly clinging to the “American Dream” ideals it once knew, it’s pretty clear to younger generations that the system isn’t so meritocratic or upwardly mobile as it once was. I think that Piketty, a Gen-Xer himself, is speaking more to this demographic than the one currently in charge. After all, to quote a certain Gen-X musical, the aging Koch brothers are “just for now”.
That said, your kids might give some thought to marrying one of their heirs.
Not the usual dull academic tome, this book is well written (and well translated) -- so fascinating a listen that I found myself staying in the car to finish a chapter from time to time. I learned much about capital, income and the relationships between them -- a real eye-opener.
I had pretty much no interest in this topic before -- that has now changed. I tried the book because I saw Thomas Piketty on a morning TV show, and he was so engaging that I decided to try the book -- I am very glad I did.
The book has lots of statistics (of course!) -- the tables and charts are provided in a PDF, so you can download and print them for reference. But it also deals with social history and literature, using the novels of Balzac, Proust and Jane Austen for insight into the lives of people of different classes in previous centuries, especially their relationship to capital ownership, interest on capital, and income.
The narrator's lively tone was perfect for the book. His pronunciation of French and other European names was very good.
Try it -- even if you think you won't like it. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Anne in Happy Valley
Be forewarned, to properly digest this important work one must have the 106 pages of graphs and charts. My tablet screen is not good enough for viewing the .pdfs which comes with the audiobook. Therefore I'd have to print them off -- much less convenient than the handy packaging of an actual book! I'm off to buy the hardcopy now!
Semi retired small business person/ college professor/ investor.
Yes, an old friend of mine would say that there are three sides to everything, your side, my side and the truth. This book is one side of the story and the data and assumptions made are intended to bolster that side.
The ending is a summary of the book hardly a surprise.
It is clear and concise reading that can be followed, not an easy task with such a book. Audio frees time over reading (usually on long car trips)
Piketty cherry picks his data to prove a point but criticizes those with different views for doing the same thing. For example when comparing inequality in 1900-1910 to inequality in 200-2010 Piketty chooses to ignore transfer payments and income taxes. Since neither existed in the earlier period but both are very substantial, and substantial forces for reducing inequality today. Ignoring these makes the resulting comparisons are very skewed from reality. He is clearly smart enough to know this and deliberate misrepresentations like this cloud an important discussion. It frustrates me when this is done deliberately to make the data prove a point. Both sides do it.
If you believe that income inequality is not a problem then you should read (listen to) this book. If you believe that all wealth is inherited and they system is rigged so that the little guy never get ahead you should perhaps read "The Millionaire Next Door" which is also research based and paints a very different picture of the wealthy. Always challenge your beliefs by reading the other side it gets you close to the truth in the middle.
I focus on fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, science, history, politics and read a lot. I try to review everything I read.
In 1729 Jonathan Swift made A Modest Proposal that the Irish poor sell their children to the rich as food. Here Piketty suggests the opposite, that we cannibalize the rich (at least their money) to feed the poor by creating a global wealth tax to redistribute wealth from the rich into social programs.
I loved this book, it is mostly about data, and I love data. Not only is there lots and lots of data, but it is very good data, with very good explanations and outstanding transparency on sources and methods. I just love this kind of data. I spent hours before starting the book just absorbing the pdf containing over 100 charts and tables. You read that right – over 100 charts and tables, and there is no point listening to this book if you don’t understand these charts. Thus I recommend either getting a visual version of the book and/or taking a careful look at the charts before you start the book. All the raw data for all the charts is available in excel format on the book’s web site.
I highly recommend this book if you want to understand the debate regarding wealth inequality and what, in anything, should be done about it. The narration is good, but it is still a tough listen due to the many references to charts, numbers, and equations.
Although I love the data and the explanations, I did not find the conclusions very compelling. It is difficult to take the author to task regarding his conclusions because he is clearly quite a clever guy and meticulously covers his posterior by making every conclusion explicitly based on hypotheticals that might be the case.
An undemonstrated premise of this book seems to be non-egalitarian societies are inherently unjust or non-utilitarian. This is far from clear. Unequally rewarding an important helpful skill is non-egalitarian yet is both just and utilitarian. Most of my disagreements with Piketty’s conclusions are based on our differences regarding this premise. There is clearly a balance of inequality essential to capitalism, and understanding how to correctly detect imbalances, either way, should have come before any analysis of how to correct any such imbalance. Yet Piketty’s answer to what the social optimal balance should be is “it is hard to say”. Adjusting a tax when it is hard to say what the proper rate should be seems ill advised.
Piketty notes that the total capital per person (in units of annual production per person) has been increasing steadily from a low in the 1950’s back to its gilded age pre-war highs. Piketty seems to believe, without a wealth tax intervention, capitalism might naturally lead to a spiraling inegalitarian concentration of wealth (depending on various rate scenarios).
Piketty correctly points out the estate tax is not uniform internationally and we currently have poor wealth reporting mechanisms yielding an ineffective tax. Yet if we fix these weaknesses of the estate tax, it is not clear why an additional wealth tax would be necessary. The author seems to me to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater by taxing skill earned wealth invested productively the same as inherited (unearned) wealth using a Wealth Tax, instead of just fixing the estate tax so it works. Inheritance tax has been attacked by the wealthy as The Death Tax but I suggest it should be re-dubbed the Slutty Heiress Elimination Tax.
I liked this book a great deal. Initially, I wasn't quite sure if I would be interested in reading the entire book -- it's quite long and it includes a lot of information about finance, which is not usually something that draws me in -- but I enjoyed every page. Even when the author gave the reader permission to skip ('If you are familiar with x concept, feel free to move to the next section"), I remained engaged with the material. Piketty is great writer -- marrying finance, Jane Austin novels, culture, and various other tidbits, which culminated in an extremely thorough, yet readable, work.
There are always so many questions I ask myself about the state of money, debt, and equality on a global level but never quite have the answers to. Piketty addresses an astounding number of concerns about our global economy. I would like to have seen him delve into a few discussions in more detail. He was heavy on the facts about finance and less so about the origins of inequality. However the book was so long; perhaps what I am asking for would be another book in and of itself. My one regret was not taking notes.
Excellent work. I recommend to anyone interested in how money is acquired, accumulated, grown, disbursed, kept in the hands of one group/individual or another. Piketty discusses who has the money, what impact their wealth has on the world at large, what should or should not be done so that the money can help the masses but also remain concentrated enough to fund space, education, etc.
As an aside, it was interesting for me to read about the same pattern, in which over and over rich individuals who amass great fortunes and get to decide what advancement will take place on a national and even global level. For example, Andrew Carnegie is portrayed as a careless tyrant who grew his fortune, only to give it to the masses in controlled, thought out ways that changed the face of education, the space program, and so on. Bill Gates is doing the same thing now. Mark Zukerberg just made the news for allocating his 45 billion dollar fortune to various causes.
Absolutely worth your time, money, and effort to read this book.
"The most talked about non-fiction book this year"
This is a mega-work - both in length and impact. The most detailed study of the distribution of wealth for decades - a monumental work of scholarship - and a powerful polemic for the effective global taxation of wealth. It's not the ideal Audible Book because you need to print off loads of PDF charts to really make sense of it, which, since I was listening to it at the gym, was a bit of a problem. Also because it has provoked a lot of debate, including over the accuracy of some of the data, you may prefer to spend your time tuning into the debate on-line; unless you are a professional economist, in which case you will have already read it and have an annotated hard-back copy on your shelf. I committed to the twenty plus hours of listening and learnt a lot. I especially like some of the incidental historical detail and the sections where he goes off-piste and gives us his views on the Euro crisis. I was convinced by both the analysis and the polemic. He is open enough to put all his data on-line. The critique by the FT's economics editor casts doubt on some of it, but Piketty's response is strong, and the fundamental argument that inequality is growing because the returns to capital are growing at a faster rate than the standard of living of the majority of the population survives intact.
"Great book - pity about the editing of the reading"
It was great to have them both, and to be able to switch between then with WhisperSync, but there were so many glitches in the reading that it was often difficult to understand the point Piketty was making.
The text was translated from the French, and the sentences were long - very long - and very complex. Ganser would start a sentence with a particular intonation, and then realise half way through the sentence that it wasn't going to end quite as he thought, so he would either change his intonation, which made it difficult to follow, as the two halves of the sentence no longer 'belonged' together, or he wouldn't change his intonation, which would make it almost impossible to understand the grammar of the sentence.
I have every sympathy with his predicament, as it is a long and complicated book, and it is impossible to get everything right the first time - but if the audio publisher had been prepared to re-record and splice in more coherent narration at significant points in the text, it would have made such a difference.
Realising that economics is not just an objective science, but depends on your point of view and what you think is important about human life.
His voice was great, and the performance full of enthusiasm, so if the audio publisher had done a bit more work on the editing of the recording, I would think him ideal.
Not sure it would make a very good film!
The narrator pronounced every French word with a ridiculous faux-French accent. Otherwise a great book.
"A momentous, highly enjoyable book."
Unfortunately, as there are many references to graphs, the print edition might be preferable to the audio version, but the performance adequately describes the content of the graphs so the listener is not at a loss.
This book has rightly inspired a heated debate which hopefully will lead to some very significant reforms in the way our modern economy works.
"Heavy going, questionable statistics...?"
This was a difficult listening experience. Too many figures and formulas for an audiobook and too vague ideas without cohesive explanations which were followable as an audiobook.
Something lighter and without the figure-heavy, formula-heavy random, straggled monologue.
This has been praised and slated in equal measure in the media. I'm erring on the side of unimpressed. The overall theme and tenet of the book could be explained in a far more brief format, with snappier and more appealing illustrative examples. The catch-all formulas make no sense in audio format and, as such, I have not and will not finish this audiobook.
"Awesome insight to the history/future of Capital"
Definitely worth taking the time to listen. Very informative and easy to understand the goal of the author.
This statement was a my favourite "The advantage of owning things is that one can continue to consume and accumulate without having to work. Or continue to consume and accumulate more than one could produce on ones own."
This statement was a my favourite "The advantage of owning things is that one can continue to consume and accumulate without having to work. Or continue to consume and accumulate more than one could produce on ones own."
Well researched, expertly written
Not sure this translates to a film genre
Very enjoyable listen
Mind opener. Inequality seems logical and natural after listening to the book. It took 2 world wars to reboot the system and narrow the gaps.
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