Watch the full interview here: www.bit.ly/1qwf1Zg
We arrived in Paris on an early morning flight to find the city’s taxi fleet on strike. So we humped our gear to the Metro. There we found a long line of anxious tourists coming to terms with another strike which had reduced trains to one-in-five of the scheduled service. Evidently, someone had been reading Thomas Piketty’s book.
‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ by French economist Thomas Piketty has become an unlikely bestseller since its English translation was published earlier this year. Six hundred pages charting the rise, fall and rise again of the truly wealthy of the developed world may not be everyone’s beach read. But it’s actually a good, dare I say, enjoyable read.
Every review of this book (and there’s been a few) and interview with the author contains some variant of that ‘don’t be afraid; Read’ health warning. But even if you don’t actually get around to ploughing through Piketty’s take on Jane Austen, his reverence for eighteenth century French estate records or his potted history of income tax systems, fear not. Because his book has sparked a thousand conversations about an issue which has never gone away: inequality.
Piketty’s basic premise is that when the return to capital grows faster than the economy at large, then so too does inequality.
This is happening most acutely in the United States, but also in Europe and other developed economies, Piketty argues. The resulting concentration of wealth into the hands of a small proportion of the population, he believes, is not good for society.
He assembles a wealth of historical statistics to argue that what happened in the twentieth century when two world wars incinerated wealth and led to what seemed a more equitable society, was an aberration. We are back on track to establishing a world where inherited wealth will play an increasingly important role, where to quote Piketty “…the past tends to devour the future.”
In person, Thomas Piketty is charming and every inch the academic who seems thrilled his book has sparked a debate. But the book is inherently political and the ensuing debate has followed predictable ideological lines. Which is a pity. Because this is a great book which performs what good scholarship should do. It takes what many believe is a hunch (the rich are getting richer) follows the historical evidence (exhaustively) makes some bold conclusions with which you may or may not agree.
What more could one want from a summer blockbuster?
Piketty arrives in Dublin this Friday (June 20th) on a flying visit to address a TASC conference in Croke Park. Our interview with him will air this Thursday, June 19th.