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.
"... there are times when silence is a poem." - John Fowles, the Magus ^(;,;)^
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 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.
Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.
What follows Thomas Piketty’s erudite introduction to Capital in the Twenty-First Century is a detailed history of capital formation and income inequality that nearly puts one in a coma. In truth, Piketty’s peregrination is essential for credibility but only for the sake of economists that wish to challenge Piketty’s conclusions.
To a non-economist, less traveling between economic histories would have offered more clarity and less boredom. I suspect, even this brief synopsis will make many eyes glaze over. That is unfortunate, because Pikertty’s book is important.
Piketty does not have incontestable answers but he has credibly framed the problem of income inequality.
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.
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!
This is a classic. Amazingly well-researched and comprehensive. Extremely educational. He writes so well I was able to follow it and understand his work even though it is quite advanced in some sections. The pdf downloads are very helpful. I would also enjoy having another class in Economics just to study and discuss this book with others and have further challenges from an Economics professor.
I'm so appreciative when a book like this comes along to enrich my understanding of the world. Well worth the hours of listening. I also plan to purchase the book and will read it to help me understand the more technical sections. Fabulous. Thank you, Mr. Piketty for your hard work, dedication, and honesty. The narrator was outstanding.
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.
This is a complicated book by a very smart guy who spent a very long time putting it together. My first listen all the way through with many rewinds still didn't get me to fully grasp what was being explained. What I did get was that most people who listen won't understand or will take Thomas P suggestions as an affront to the free enterprise system. I didn't. Imagine taking Americans into his suggestions when all it takes is for two of the less rich guys like the Koch brothers to stir up a tea party. Or even to get better gun control.
Americans won't do anything of the likes of this book suggest but it should serve to wake people up to realize there is a trend line that has historical precedence. Wealth is getting more concentrated.
What I would like to know is whether the concentration is actually causing stagnation or is it being used more effectively than what the government can do with it. Thats what it boils down to. Who do you think will do a better job with the money? The rich or the government.
FOR SURE.. Big point and major take away for me was, that the most effective way to gain a more "egalitarian" society as per past history, was by the dissemination of SKILLS.
Train and educate the populace for them to help themselves. Not hand outs like most people will interpret this book to say.
He brings eyeballs and a voice. There was a few points in the book that he really made it sound like TP wrote in a derogatory tone about one thing or another and I wondered if the author would have used that tone but I was being as objective as possible so I let it slide.
The whole book is a must for anyone trying to understand the equality vs inequality discussion we hear about from the talking heads.
Don't NOT get this book because you think it might turn you into a pinko commie tree hugging freak. This is a real work by a very smart guy who spent a long time putting it together. Heavy but you will be a better person for it. You will have a deeper understanding of a very real phenomenon in our paradigm. Wealth is undoubtedly becoming more concentrated. What does that mean? If it means more bad things for more people then that might need to be addressed. If it's just what account the money flows through to get to the same ends then who cares. I'd rather have Warren Buffett run the country than most of the people we have had in the past. Rich people know what to do with money.
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