Capital in the Twenty-First Century (“Le Capital au XXIe siècle”), by Thomas Piketty
Offering a critique of the unequal distribution of wealth produced by capitalism, Thomas Piketty’s book Capital in the 21st Century has become a best-seller and a major economic reference-point around the world.
Economist and teacher
After completing a degree at the École Normale Supérieure, Thomas Piketty submitted his PhD thesis in economics at the age of 22, “An Essay on the Theory of Redistribution of Resources” ["Essais sur la theory de la redistribution des ressources"], at the École des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, where he would go on to become a director of research in 2000. Since 2014 he has taught at the Paris School of Economics, which he helped to create.
The author of numerous studies on economic inequalities, (The Wealthy in France in the 20th Century (“Les Hauts Revenus en France au XXe siècle”), 2001; Capital in the Twenty-First Century, 2013), the French economist received the Yrjö Jahnsson Prize in 2013 for his contributions to the study of the European economy.
Capitalism, creator of inequality
Today, the issue of the distribution of wealth is a subject of heated debate– a debate which dates back to the 18th century and the beginnings of capitalism. Some believe that inequality is growing as the strength of capitalism grows. Others argue that intervention to prevent the accumulation of capital would upset the natural reduction of inequality which results from the balance between growth, competition and technological progress.
In this scholarly study, Thomas Piketty shows that the development of capitalism, due to the fact that there is a higher level of remuneration for capital than there is economic growth, automatically generates inequalities that, in the long term, compromise the democratic values of merit and social justice.
A massively statistical work
Intending to rely on accurate figures rather than on theoretical claims, the economist spent 15 years researching Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
Going back as far as the 18th century, he examines historical changes in income and wealth distribution by analysing statistical data from 20 or so countries around the world, such as France, the United Kingdom, the United States and Japan. His conclusion runs counter to Simon Kuznets' curve, which, in the 1950s, established a positive relationship between a country's economic development and its reduction of inequalities.
To address the inequality generated by the accumulation of capital, Thomas Piketty advocates the creation of a global tax on capital, as well as an estimate of the value of high-income assets in order to tax them.
A global success
Published in France in 2013, Capital in the Twenty-First Century was translated into English by Harvard University Press the year after its French publication.
With more than 2.5 million copies sold worldwide in four years, the book has become a best-seller, a rare occurrence for an essay on economics which is nearly 1,000 pages long.
Considered as a new economic touchstone on the theme of distribution of wealth, Thomas Piketty’s book has provoked reactions from the world’s leading economists, beginning with the American Paul Krugman, the 2008 Nobel laureate for economics, in an article in the New York Times called the work “the most important study of 2014, or even the decade”.
Capital in the Twenty-First Century (“Le Capital au XXIe siècle”) has been translated into Serbian, Polish, Bulgarian, Albanian, Spanish, Dutch, Latvian, Hindi, Tamil, Mongolian, Czech, Finnish, Arabic and Bengali with the support of the Institut français.
Through its translation support programmes, the Institut français participates in the dissemination of French language humanities worldwide.