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Capital in the Twenty-First Century

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  29,754 ratings  ·  2,268 reviews
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-Fi ...more
Hardcover, 685 pages
Published March 10th 2014 by Belknap Press (first published August 30th 2013)
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Scott Rich Williams is incorrect. Piketty proposes the wealth tax instead of the property tax (although in addition to other taxes), because real estate pro…moreRich Williams is incorrect. Piketty proposes the wealth tax instead of the property tax (although in addition to other taxes), because real estate property would be included within the wealth tax. (less)
Julien V Because democracy allows every adult to express their ideas and interests. It is a political right, and a good thing *in itself*.

Experts are needed, …more
Because democracy allows every adult to express their ideas and interests. It is a political right, and a good thing *in itself*.

Experts are needed, because not everyone has the time, knowledge or capacity to process the complex data behind every economic policy. But experts in a particular field may have particular interests and thus misinterpret or misrepresent the majority's well-being.

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May 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Given the amount of hype and misinformation around this book, I'll start by saying what Capital in the 21st century is not about.

This book is NOT:

1. A work of opinion journalism or punditry. Though, obviously, it does contain the views of its author
2. A prescriptive manifesto trying to explain how to utterly eradicate inequality worldwide, though its author does feel constructive steps can be taken to reduce such inequalities.
3. A work of Journalism written in response to the recession of 20
Trevor (I sometimes get notified of comments)
This book is basically the Harry Potter of Economics – I mean in terms of blockbuster sales and turning its author into a rock star. He is being credited with giving new life to the left. The book is very long. I’m not sure if you really need to read the whole thing, either. Depending on what you want to get out of this, you really could get by with reading the Introduction and the Conclusion. If that doesn’t seem enough, then you could read Chapter 14 and 15 – pretty much where he outlines his ...more
Scotty Wardle
May 02, 2014 rated it did not like it
It's amazing to me how often Marxism gets repackaged and sold as if it was something new. Piketty's book is a prime example of this. It attempts to resell the already disproven lie about post WWII growth being caused by taxing the rich when in fact very few of the wealthy elite actually paid the 70-90% tax rates. Post WWII growth was the result of the U.S. holding excess gold reserves from Europe and the Bretton Woods conference that made the U.S. dollar the world's reserve currency. Anyone who ...more
May 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is my five stars of "this book changed the way I look at something," not five stars of flawlessness or five stars of thinking everyone in the world should read it. Since I didn't have an opinion before, it would be more accurate to say this book gave me a way of looking at the structure of wealth in economies over time.

First things first, for people who read reviews of the book rather than the book itself. This book is not about slamming the rich; Piketty doesn't talk very much about morali
Mark Skousen
May 29, 2014 rated it did not like it
The Economist magazine rightly calls French professor Thomas Piketty the new Marx, although a watered-down version. Piketty’s bestseller (rated #1 on Amazon) is a thick volume with the same title as Karl Marx’s 1867 magnum opus, “Kapital.” The publisher, Harvard University Press, appropriately designed the book cover in red, the color of the socialist workers party.

Piketty cites Karl Marx more than any other economist, even more than Keynes. The professor barely mentions Adam Smith. Instead of t
Apr 10, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
“Indeed, the distribution of wealth is too important an issue to be left to economists, sociologists, historians, and philosophers.”
― Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century


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 nor the publisher was expecting it
Mar 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Spoiler alert....

Holy smokes, this was a tour de force of political economy & economic history. Piketty explains why a tax on capital is so much preferable than taxes on income, the need for global cooperation and why inequality in America will only get worse unless policymakers address higher education affordability, tax policies, especially on inheritance, and minimum wage laws. A brutally long read, yet well worth the effort.
Nandakishore Mridula
Jul 01, 2020 marked it as deferred
This book is too big and too dense to swallow in one shot - so I am going to review it chapter by chapter. This will not sound actually like a review, but rather like reader's notes, as I try to gather my thoughts.


Thomas Piketty plans to attack the knotty problem of capital - the slippery concept that has avoided the determined efforts of great brains such as Malthus, Marx and Adam Smith to collar it and place it in a compartment where it can be studied and analysed scientifically. M
Riku Sayuj
The central thesis of this book is:

An apparently small gap between the return on capital and the rate of growth can in the long run have powerful and destabilizing effects on the structure and dynamics of social inequality.
David M
Jun 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Fresh confirmation. Piketty likely underestimated the growth of extreme inequality

feed the poor. eat the rich


The introduction includes one of the most gratifying paragraphs ever written

To put it bluntly, the discipline of economics has yet to get over its childish passion for mathematics and for purely theoretical and often highly ideological speculation, at the expense of historical research and collaboration wit
Roy Lotz
Nov 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
In any case, truly democratic debate cannot proceed without reliable statistics.

For such a hefty book, so full of charts and case studies, the contents of Capital in the Twenty-First Century can be summarized with surprising brevity. Here it goes:

For as long as we have reliable records, market economies have produced huge disparities in income and wealth. The simple reason for this is that private wealth has consistently grown several times faster than the economy; furthermore, the bigger yo
Randal Samstag
Feb 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Thomas Piketty is a relatively young economist who has spent most of his professional career teaching at the Paris School of Economics and the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales after brief stints at MIT. He has collaborated with fellow École Normale Supérieure graduate Emmanuel Suez on comprehensive studies on income and wealth inequality. A chart of their data is a frequently-used graphic (the one that looks like the Golden Gate Bridge) in Robert Reich's current documentary film, Ine ...more
Aaron Thibeault
Mar 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
*A full executive summary of this book is available here:

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
Kunal Sen
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
In a world that is increasingly blinded by ideological polarization, where we first decide what we believe we should believe in and then try to find facts to justify our cherished ideas, Piketty’s book comes as a surprise and a reminder that there is no substitute of good scholarship. The first requirement of honest scholarship is to be suspicious of all past ideas and question every single data source. Piketty does just that. He shows respect towards past economists while critically questioning ...more
Apr 25, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: listened-to
I will steal my short version review of this book from the fictional review of a "Cones of Dunshire" (Parks and Recreation) review: Punishingly intricate.

What makes this book so effective is what makes it such a difficult read: Math. Piketty shows his work by going through all of the statistical, economic, sociological, etc etc etc, data he could get his hands on. He correctly anticipated the criticism he would receive from the right wing and thusly he makes no claims without laying EXTENSIVE fo
Mar 14, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Piketty will be picked apart in the months and years ahead, and his unprecedented depth of research will be turned against him where the holes in available documents exist. But he intended that criticism. The point of the book is to reshape the conversation, and that he has thoroughly achieved by forcing economists, politicians and the public to face the reality of income inequality and inherited wealth worldwide. Arthur Goldhammer deserves considerable credit for his English translation. The bo ...more
Oct 26, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Inherited wealth dominates amassed wealth, the shore of capital income in national income is equal to the average rate of return on capital, there exists unequal returns as a function of portfolio size, social spending can amplify inequalities of social origin, in low growth societies the rate of return on capital is 'markedly and durably higher than the rate of growth', an apparently small gap between return on capital and rate of growth can in the long run have powerful and destabilizin
ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos) withdrawn
I wouldn't want to hazard a guess at how many millions of words have been written about Picketty's Capital. Nor would I want to guess at how many copies will sit unread, right there on the shelf between Marx's Das Capital (vol I) and Joyce's Finnigan's Wake.

GR doesn't need another in depth review. Basically, the book was written for the relatively educated reader who is ready to plow through 700 pages of dense, but clear, writing. The author wants to get his message to a wide audience and wrote
Nick Klagge
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
I finished this several weeks ago now, but with all of the reviews in the media, I keep putting off writing my own because I feel like it needs to be really good! I am going to avoid doing a comprehensive review, since you can read many of those on the internet. Instead, here are some of my idiosyncratic observations on the book:

-First, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in the subject matter. Yes, it is long, but Piketty's writing (jointly, Goldhammer's translation) is ext
The American Conservative
"We are now in the realm of speculation, however, and that is a world in which Piketty, notwithstanding his headline-grabbing predictions, is uncomfortable. That is the novel strength of Capital in the Twenty-First Century. Although his book is theoretically thin and concludes with a political program that is simultaneously overfamiliar and quite unlikely to be enacted, Piketty has done an enormous service simply by compiling the amount of data that he has about how the predominance of wealth ha ...more
Bryan Alexander
Apr 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics, history
This book has extraordinary presence on the American scene today. Reviewing it is tricky, since there are so many competitors, along with so much bad discussion.

Here, I won't summarize the tome, since others have already done so (Doug Henwood does the best job I've seen). Instead I'd like to note some key elements of content and style, which might be useful for other current or would-be readers.

(I already did this from a half-way point, so this post is really a revision taking into account the
Jan 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
Ideally a book called Capital in the 21st Century might address two sets of questions which are very current. The first would be “what is likely to happen to capital in the 21st Century?” Two prominent economists (Robert Gordon and Tyler Cowan) have argued that the boom in technological advancement is coming to an end - we’ve “picked all the low hanging fruit” (in Cowan’s words). They both argue that those developments are a problem. The second question is even tougher. In all developed societie ...more
Gregg Wingo
Jul 09, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Piketty has accomplished much with this work. Despite claims that it represents a Neo-Marxism it is anything but that, rather it is a return to Classical economics in the tradition of Adam Smith, Ricardo, and Marx synthesized with the rigor of 20th-century economics in the tradition of Fisher, Keynes, and Schumpeter. It is as its title implies a study of the nature of Capitalism not just economics or business but rather the whole system we find ourselves enmeshed in today.

He begins the book wit
Grzegorz Chrupała
May 10, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The idea in Capital in the Twenty-First Century is that in most circumstances the return on capital is larger than the growth rate of the economy. This in turn means that wealth generates wealth faster than labor does, so the resources of a society become concentrated in large fortunes passed from generation to generation.

This dynamic can be interrupted by major shocks such as hyperinflation and war, as happened in the first part of the twentieth century. More recently, however, the developed wo
Wick Welker
Capital is king.

This terrible review will not do Capital in the 21st Century any justice at all. This macroeconomic book is incredibly scholarly and written from what appears to be an objective viewpoint. In retrospect, listening to this as an audiobook was a terrible idea. It’s not that the book is overly complex for a layman or inaccessible, it’s just that you really need to absorb the material through graphs and some minor algebra to follow a lot of lines of reasoning throughout the book. The
Elliott Bignell
Oct 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that makes one feel more intelligent. Very slightly technical and with only a smattering of mathematics but a lot of graphs and a pile of evidence, the author exercises the paedagogue's talent for making clear the concepts he has to employ to make his case, and thereby makes one feel clever just for moving ahead with reading. It is unusual for an economics treatise to become a popular bestseller, and this book is unusual in a number of other ways. Firstly it is even qu ...more
Greg Brozeit
Apr 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: economics
Reading this book is quite a chore for layperson not well versed in economic theory. But I think Piketty gets it right in presenting his arguments. One just has to be patient and persistent in order to reap the rewards of the message he is trying to convey.

His conclusion also underscores why the first three parts of his book are so important. Globally we must work to create reliable, honest sources of data so that policy makers and citizens can accurately judge and make decisions about complex
Josh Friedlander
Nov 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
True or false? "Modern CEOs get paid far in excess of their actual contribution to the companies they run." Your feelings on this issue probably say a lot about what you feel about the economy, wealth inequality, and the merits of free markets in general. Top executives receiving huge salary packages for doing what seems like a pretty cushy job instinctively feels unjust to many - but then, no-one is forcing companies to pay such high salaries, so where exactly is the issue?

This sort of highlig
Anthony Buckley
Jul 22, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: politics
This is a carefully written book on the topic of inequality in the new century. The book's title contains the echo of Karl Marx’s magnum opus which it approaches with critical deference. Like Marx’s book, it does not rise to great heights of polemic. One should not look here for slogans condemning the modern world. Rather, it is a complex book, both sober and scholarly.

Until the early twentieth century, he argues, those who had inherited wealth were able to invest it, primarily in land or gover
Nov 29, 2014 added it
Shelves: economics
The majority of economics that Americans are going to encounter is fairly limited-- the names Krugman, Friedman, Smith emerge, but to what extent do we know of their actual theoretical bases. Or their underlying assumptions about the economic endeavor?

Enter Thomas Piketty, who has somehow entranced American intellectual life-- not something that most authors of 600-page, data-driven treatises can do. In its practice, it's excellent social science, in that it Piketty is empirical, sober-minded, i
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Thomas Piketty (French: [tɔma pikɛti]; born May 7, 1971) is a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is the director of studies at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) and professor at the Paris School of Economics. He is the author of the best selling book Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), which emphasizes the themes of his work on wealth conc ...more

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