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Publisher's Summary

The epic successor to one of the most important books of the century: at once a retelling of global history, a scathing critique of contemporary politics, and a bold proposal for a new and fairer economic system

Thomas Piketty’s best-selling Capital in the Twenty-First Century galvanized global debate about inequality. In this audacious follow-up, Piketty challenges us to revolutionize how we think about politics, ideology, and history. He exposes the ideas that have sustained inequality for the past millennium, reveals why the shallow politics of right and left are failing us today, and outlines the structure of a fairer economic system. 

Our economy, Piketty observes, is not a natural fact. Markets, profits, and capital are all historical constructs that depend on choices. Piketty explores the material and ideological interactions of conflicting social groups that have given us slavery, serfdom, colonialism, communism, and hypercapitalism, shaping the lives of billions. He concludes that the great driver of human progress over the centuries has been the struggle for equality and education, and not, as often argued, the assertion of property rights or the pursuit of stability. The new era of extreme inequality that has derailed that progress since the 1980s, he shows, is partly a reaction against communism, but it is also the fruit of ignorance, intellectual specialization, and our drift toward the dead-end politics of identity. 

Once we understand this, we can begin to envision a more balanced approach to economics and politics. Piketty argues for a new “participatory” socialism, a system founded on an ideology of equality, social property, education, and the sharing of knowledge and power. Capital and Ideology is destined to be one of the indispensable books of our time, a work that will not only help us understand the world, but that will change it.

©2020 Thomas Piketty; Arthur Goldhammer - translation (P)2020 Harvard University

What listeners say about Capital and Ideology

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Big thinking at its finest

Data driven, factual analysis with strong understanding of history, politics, economics and the need for global and regional solutions. It impacts my thinking on everything I am passionate about- wealth inequality, gender rights, climate change, global goals and access tools.

Great analysis and information that hopefully will help spur change and progress.

17 people found this helpful

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For committed students of economics and politics

This is a massive book that goes into the minutiae of many economics systems around the world and back in time, and yet I felt like hearing more about some of the cases they didn't have the opportunity to discuss. In the beginning where they present how the dominant countries we have data for (mainly western European) organized society around the three estates of church, nobility, and common people the emphasis is on description, sticking closely to the data. This continues when after the revolutions of the eighteenth century these countries changed over to a proprietarian scheme where a central government provided most of the functions that the monarch and the church did previously, and the small class that controlled nearly all the property was the main group that mattered. The author shows convincingly how this actually served to concentrate power even more than in the trifunctional arrangement, both with regard to income and to wealth. In parallel, there were slave and colonial states which benefited the empires that controlled them from afar. Then, after the first World War, everything changed, with authoritarian regimes in central and eastern Europe, social democracies in Scandinavia, western Europe, and to a limited degree the United States. By mid-twentieth century inequality was lessened from the before because of an acceptance of progressive central taxation and the independence of former colonies, but by the end of the millennium there was another transition to the hypercapitalistic global economy we see now with a different pattern of wealth concentration. Throughout they emphasize that changes in ideology have been the things which have driven economic conditions, not the other way around.

Midway through the book, there is a shift toward a tendency to advocate on the side of less inegalitarian, less nativist economic structures. It isn't until the final summary at the end where I felt like the measures being promoted were really strongly left-wing, such as the move away from private ownership and allowing movement across national borders, as opposed to center-left positions changing things like an ownership stake by labor in large companies. I have not read the author's previous work but hear a lot of readers complaining that this is to some degree a rehash of that analysis, with perhaps additional data from different eras and different countries from before. I have some sympathy for their position, because it feels like we are seeing a lot of the limits of what capitalism can do when it comes to working toward a just and humane society, and I would like there to be some attempt at a conversation on what alternatives there could be. I would not say that the author represents a really revolutionary viewpoint, though, more one that sees a growth in problems that capitalism seems poorly equipped to solve by itself.

There was some economic jargon along the way that was unfamiliar to me: besides trifunctional systems, there was also ternary societies, censitarian monarchies, and discussion of a union between the Brahmin left and merchant right when it comes to political ideologies. I could eventually figure out what these were about but I could see how it could be off-putting to a general reader. The sections that were deep-dives into one or another aspect of French governance over the last fifty years were interesting to me even given how unfamiliar I was with it, but it's easy to see how these would be the point where someone would put the book down. But anyone who picks this up ought to be able to figure out that it isn't intended to be a comprehensive and objective survey of all economic activity worldwide, or even that of the west.

I listened to this in audiobook form, now and then dipping back into the figures and tables which accompany the purchase of the book just so I could see what point they were making. This was a little cumbersome, but I think it would be harder for me to consume this all as straight text whether hardcopy or electronic. The frequent footnotes were not a big impediment for me, but I would occasionally be surprised when coming to the end of a section and diving into a completely separate topic, which seemed abrupt sometimes. I recommended this to one book club I belong to, but now that I finished it I am thinking that expecting members to read the whole long work is probably too much and would only lead to unfocused discussion. I am not sure whether I'll ever re-read this ponderous work someday, but I do feel like I got a lot out of it.

6 people found this helpful

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Accessible

More accessible for me than Capital in the 21st Century. Solid arguments against the sacralization of property. Practical roadmap for social democrats.

6 people found this helpful

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The narrator is not good

The narrator is painfully monotonous and seems incapable of altering his voice intonations to fit the content. He frequently sounds as though he doesn't understand, or care about, what he is reading. You have to listen around him and constantly resist his tendency to make dense content harder to follow.

6 people found this helpful

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Thought provoking questions!Promising proposals!

Pike try intends to put data back to the hands of citizens. Out of the academic ivory towers. Every one can follow his lucid analysis and rich array of data. And understand the history of inequality and start to think about how to build a more equitable world.

4 people found this helpful

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Thomas Piketty is astounding!

Though this book is long, it is nevertheless a GREAT analysis. The depth of knowledge on world history and economics reveals probable future outcomes if interventions are not considered. Piketty recognizes the need to secure equality at all levels and asks the tough questions like at what point is there too much tax? At what point is there too little? Should certain structures pay more tax than others? Is the world ready for transnational ideology? This scholarly work highlights the overwhelming number of people on our planet indirectly with abundant studies on inequality in its many forms: gender, social constructs, religious constructs, environmental degradation, power structures, corporate structures, etc. He easily elevates the reader above all the obvious corruption by often reminding us of the alternative - that we can have open/transparent democratic dialogue platforms, especially between labor and shareholders. After he shares with us the World’s socioeconomic history at length, he picks the portions that work. He’s also keen to reason why the other portions do not work. Yet he is as open-ended. It is left for the reader to decide. The entire work is well balanced. Its humorous at times and the audio book Reader was well chosen to deliver such a heavy message. It is textbook quality and essential reading.

4 people found this helpful

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fundamentally flawed, blames specific races instead of human tribalism as a whole. sounds like text-to-speech

4 people found this helpful

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Greatest Economist Since Keynes, If Not Adam Smith

Piketty does not dwell on capitalist, socialist, communist, or any other kind of “ists”, he lumps them all into the same broad category of “inequality regimes”.

3 people found this helpful

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Das Kapital for the 21st century.

The most ambitious look at human inequality across time and cultures to date with exactly the recommendations we need for our time.

This is a masterpiece.

2 people found this helpful

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Capital inequality throughout the world & history

Paul Krugman (NYTimes, 3/8/2020) gave 'Capital and Ideology' a tepid review, so I was a bit leery of starting into the nearly 50 hour Audible book, but I enjoyed the book thoroughly, as much or more than the earlier Capital in the Twenty-first Century. Like the earlier book, it is essential to have access to the pdf with over 100 pages of graphs and tables; the pdf is provided with the audible download. Piketty argues that the inequalities in wealth can be traced to the ideologies underlying societies over the last four centuries or so. Ternary societies with 3 distinct classes (Royalty, Clergy & the hoi polloi) dominated most western societies with ternary analogues in Japan, China, and India. Ownership societies followed, often associated with colonialism and slave-owning societies which were the acme of inequality. Other than slave societies, the peak of wealth and income inequality was reached in the belle epoque in France and elsewhere 1880-1914, followed by a relative drop in inequality until about 1980. Piketty attributes this reduction in inequality to the introduction of progressive taxation, needed to pay down the war debts from two world wars. The period of hypercapitalism after 1980, with Reagan and Thatcher leading the way, was a race to the bottom among countries and US States to see which government could tax the wealth of individuals and corporations the least. Post-Soviet Russian became the least egalitarian society of all with a mere 12% flat income tax, no estate tax and more billionaires per capita than any other country. Piketty stresses that educational inequality, especially in the US, is a major driver of income and wealth inequality with strong intergenerational carryover. The rise of Nativist anti-intellectual politicians such as Trump is not unique to the US; there are similar populist leaders in Britain, France, Italy, Poland and Hungary. The GOP in the US, in addition to advocating policies favoring the wealthy has also become the party for those who feel alienated from the increasingly intellectual Democratic party, The Democratic party is the home of highly educated as well as the party of the blacks and other minorities. Piketty argues that it is the dislike of the educationally elite not minorities that has been the major driver of the white blue collar and merchant class to the GOP party. A similar migration to the conservative parties by the relatively uneducated has occured since the 1980s in Britain, Italy, Poland, Hungary and France. Strangely, but perhaps not, the Ivy-based Krugman doesn't mention Piketty's arguments about the inequalities in US higher education (both funding and quality) in his tepid review of Piketty. Piketty's solutions (e.g., more equiable funding and access to high quality education, especially higher education, taxiing elite University endowments, increasing the progressivity of wealth taxes, establishing a basal income for all, and requiring labor to have strong representation on corporate boards) seem inconceivable in today's non-Nordic & Germanic socieites. Piketty's call for clarity in documenting wealth and its inequalities and pleas to reduce the competition among states and countries to provide the least progressive forms of taxation would be a good start.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Rowan
  • 07-08-20

worth the effort

very enjoyable and thought provoking, particularly the historical analysis in the first parts of the book. The conclusions sound like wishful thinking today but the trend of discourse is towards piketty's ideas, establishing him as one of our era's leading thinkers

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  • Jussie
  • 06-05-20

exceptionally informative

I've never been interested in history, but this book kept me intrigued right the way through with its constant enlightening historical facts. The author enabled a novice like me to follow and understand the complicated history of various countries. In all honesty, I'm blown away. I would highly recommend it to anyone who knows little, as well as anyone who thinks they know something about socio-economic history. Fantastic!

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  • Anonymous
  • 04-27-20

A very informative read

Massive though it is, thus is a very interesting book, so doesn't bore.

Suffers from using too many big words, when little ones may be more understandable.

1 person found this helpful

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  • Mark J.
  • 02-28-21

Thus far, the best book of the century.

Amazing work, the analysis is absorbing and cutting. I agreed with everything bar its pro immigration stance.

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  • M. Dixon
  • 12-31-20

Essential but very technical

US narrator = less empathy with content but worth the effort. Participatory socialism must come!

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  • Anonymous User
  • 05-30-20

Worth the read!

Let’s be honest, the first thing you thought when you saw this audiobook was ‘holy sh#t, 50 hours?!....’ but trust me, you absolutely MUST take on the task to persevere through this book. Also, I was able to listen to the book fairly comfortably at 1.4x speed reducing the listening time to 40 hours.

In the final sentence of the book, Piketty states ‘ultimately, this book has only one goal, to enable citizens to reclaim possession of economical and historical knowledge. Whether or not an individual agrees with my position is irrelevant, because the purpose is to begin a debate, not end it.’

This book is an immediate prerequisite for anyone who is concerned about wealth inequality but should also be required reading for those interested in democracy as a whole and how political and social factors interplay to result in what we’ve seen manifest in the past across various societies and what we have now.

The book starts by observing historical shifts of social hierarchy from classical ternary societies (nobility, clergy & third estate) to proprietarianism (a society where acknowledgment and defence of property rights are paramount) to various forms of socialism and communism and then eventually to today’s society, neo-proprietarianism.

There are thorough accounts of the progression of these various ideologies thorough last 300+ years of not only Western Europe, but also the Americas, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe. The bulk of information does pertain to Europe and the USA though, particularly Piketty’s native homeland, France.

At times I felt I was reading a pure history text which I personally loved. I learnt a lot of facts I had no idea about that helped influence my views.

As you can imagine, there are occasional sections of a 50h audiobook where you find yourself not particularly engaged with the book but this is largely due to the limits of the human attention span and not because the content is superfluous. I found myself deeply engaged the majority of the time.

The culmination of the book ends in Piketty positing his ideal starting point for his version of democratic socialism called ‘participatory socialism’ which includes a wide range of policies combining a mixture of deeply progressive wealth taxes, to universal capital endowments and a complete revision of all international trade agreements that allow a disproportionate amount of capital to leave poorer nations.

Although Piketty states clearly his personal position as the book proceeds and recapitulates this in the final chapter, the historical analysis and representation of data is 100% objective and great care is taken to explain many data points can not be taken at face value as access to truly accurate numbers are often impossible which reduces data to best available estimates. However, they’re still more than sufficient for being able to notice trends.

This is easily one of the best books I’ve ever read and has already deeply influenced my personal political views.

Like Piketty says, even if you don’t agree with the conclusion of democratic socialism, simply listening to and understanding all the facts that have played apart in bringing modern society to where it is now can only help to further debate about how best to structure our societies.

Please read 🙏🏼

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  • Anonymous User
  • 09-16-20

Long read, but worth it!!

Piketty gives the reader a comprehensive review of the economic inequalities around the world and their various historical origins.
I like that he also makes suggestion on how to tackle this problem

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  • Amazon Customer
  • 06-29-20

A little bit too academic for normal people

A good history of how the capital market changes based on different policies, such as India and Europe. However, does not provide too many thought-provoking ideas about how to change our society, rather than more tax on the rich and their property. Personally, I think the anti-trust law, a more community based economy, or even sharing economy which are discussed by other books are more practically to solve our current problems.