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Capital in the Twenty-First Century

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  20,880 ratings  ·  1,779 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 ...more
Hardcover, 685 pages
Published March 10th 2014 by Belknap Press: An Imprint of Harvard University 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…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
May 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
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.
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
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, ...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
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
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
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
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 ...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
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 ...more
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 ...more
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,
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
Nov 12, 2014 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Owlseyes by: sanderist, the sand wrist

"I refuse this nomination because I do not think it is the government's role to decide who is honorable. They would do better to concentrate on reviving [economic] growth in France and Europe," Piketty told AFP*.

"César Birotteau,another Balzac character,made his money in perfumes.He was the ingeniuous inventor of any number of beauty products-Sultan's cream,Carminative Water, and so on-that Balzac tells us were all the rage in late imperial and Restoration France. But this was not enough
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
Bryan Alexander
Apr 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, economics
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
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
ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos)
May 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: money-stuff
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
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 ...more
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
Justin Evans
May 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history-etc

Here are the first few paragraphs of my review; the full thing can be found at:


Adam Smith’s invisible hand has always been the take-away from ECON 101. Smith used the phrase once, when arguing that states should not give a private company the monopoly over a domestic market. It would be wrong for the government, say, to force tea grown in Scotland onto everyone in the United Kingdom. It’s very difficult to grow tea in Scotland, so any tea that could be
Michael Siliski
Sep 02, 2018 rated it it was amazing
An illuminating treatise on the nature of wealth and inequality in the 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries. Highly recommended for anyone with any appetite at all for non-technical macroeconomics.

Piketty has two major contributions to offer. First, he (and colleagues) have spent years piecing together a more extensive set of sources than ever previously assembled to paint an incredibly thorough picture of income, capital, and economic growth over the past 300 years. While I have no expertise in this
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
Nov 25, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Being in the science field, I was always deeply annoyed by the prevalence of anti-scientific thought among so many economy pundits. Many ideas seemed completely dissociated from historical facts but were said to be true just because. To me they felt more like religion than science.

Piketty did a fenomenal work which completely repels that tendency. Each point discussed is thorougly based on real facts, not dogma. As in the best science cases, he shows a convergence of conclusions based on
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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 ...more
“When the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of growth of output and income, as it did in the nineteenth century and seems quite likely to do again in the twenty-first, capitalism automatically generates arbitrary and unsustainable inequalities that radically undermine the meritocratic values on which democratic societies are based.” 64 likes
“Over a long period of time, the main force in favor of greater equality has been the diffusion of knowledge and skills.” 42 likes
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