Thomas Piketty: "Capital in the 21st Century"

Photo courtesy of Harvard Press

Photo courtesy of Harvard Press


Mere months ago, Thomas Piketty was a professor at the Paris School of Economics. He was one of the many thousands of economists who pore over data and plot out graphs in relative obscurity.
When his book, "Capital in the 21st Century", was published last year it generated a modest amount of attention in France.  

A couple of months ago, Harvard University Press published an English-language edition of the book. It attracted some favourable notice from high-powered economists like Paul Krugman of The New York Times.

Then, Thomas Piketty hit the United States for a book tour. Suddenly, he was the world's hottest author. His book became the most discussed and fiercely debated work of non-fiction - let alone economics - in years. 

"Capital in the 21st Century" has been hailed as one of those books that changes everything -- from public policy to the way we understand the world. It joins the ranks of books like "The Origin of Species", "Silent Spring", "The Death and Life of American Cities" ... and yes, "Das Kapital". 

It also happens to be a book about one of the most emotional and divisive issues of our time: economic inequality. And the data are stark. They show that while real wages for most workers in the U.S. have been stagnant since the 1970's, the top 1% are making 165% more money than they did in the 70's. And for the 0.1%, that increase is 362%. 

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on Piketty's diagnosis and prescription, even if they haven't penetrated the book's 700-page heft. To many on the left, Piketty's book is a rigorously researched vindication of their suspicion that capitalism is a game utterly rigged in favour of the rich - otherwise known as the 1%. To many on the right, it's a naive and even dangerous work of Marxist ideology and economic apostasy. 

And in a rare feat for a book about economics, it has been almost impossible to get your hands on a copy. Supply has been overwhelmed by demand. Thomas Piketty joined Michael Enright from Paris, for a conversation. 

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