— The Erimtan Angle —

‘The Economic Policy Institute and the Washington Center for Equitable Growth host a presentation by Thomas Piketty—economist from the Paris School of Economics and ground-breaking researcher on income inequality—of the findings in his new book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. His presentation is followed by a panel discussion moderated by Heather Boushey, Executive Director and Chief Economist of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, with Josh Bivens, Research and Policy Director of the Economic Policy Institute, Robert M. Solow, Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Betsey Stevenson, Member of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, serving as discussants. Piketty examines data from more than twenty countries spanning in some cases as far back as the 18th century to assess the dynamics of income and wealth distribution, with a particular focus on the role of capital ownership as a driver of long-run trends in income inequality. He argues that when the rate of return on capital exceeds the rate of economic growth, as it has for most of history, then rising income inequality becomes inevitable. He says that if this rising inequality is allowed to continue unchecked, the results could be deep political and social disruption. While Piketty notes that inequality has different dimensions across countries, he concludes with a recommendation: significantly increase the progressivity of both income and wealth taxation. Given the extraordinarily globalized market for capital, he further argues that the reach of such taxes must be global as well. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, already a best seller, is an invaluable contribution to how we understand inequality and its possible consequences. The book, which has already focused the attention of economists like no other work in recent decades, will be available for purchase at the event. We very much hope you can join us. This event is free to the public (15 April 2014)’.

The New Statesman‘s Nick Pearce posits that “Piketty’s thesis is arresting because he buttresses it with ample historical data to show that the reduction of inequality in the middle of the 20th century was an exception, not the norm in a market economy. Ordinarily, he argues, if capital is reinvested it yields between 4 and 5 per cent a year, outstripping economic growth. Wealth inequalities therefore increase. This has been true of almost all human history. The 20th century was exceptional because of the capital shocks of two world wars, decolonisation and the growth of the welfare state. The huge inequalities of the belle époque gave way to a more egalitarian distribution as capital was destroyed, taxed or nationalised to pay for the war effort and the building of public services and social security. Growth, on the other hand, was relatively high because of technological catch-up and convergence, particularly in Europe and Japan following the Second World War. In the late 1970s and 1980s, these processes started to go into reverse, as growth rates slowed, capital was rebuilt, taxes on wealth and top incomes were cut, and the institutions of postwar social democracy were dismantled. Today, wealth holdings in the advanced economies are six times as large as annual national income – the same sort of level as existed before the First World War”.[1]

 

[1] Nick Pearce, “Thomas Piketty: a modern French revolutionary” New Statesman (03 April 2014). http://www.newstatesman.com/2014/03/french-revolutionary.

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