Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty First Century: An Introduction

An introduction to Thomas Piketty’s monumental work

US Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman described Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century as “perhaps the most important book of the last decade”. It has sparked major international debates, dominated bestseller lists and generated a level of enthusiasm—as well as intense criticism—in a way no other recent economic or sociological work has. Piketty has been described as a new Karl Marx and placed in the same league as the economist John Maynard Keynes. The ‘rock star economist’s’ (Financial Times) underlying thesis: inequality under capitalism has reached dramatic proportions in the last few decades and continues to grow—and not by coincidence. Thus, a small elite becomes simultaneously richer and richer and more and more powerful.

Given the sensational reception of the not-so-easily digested 800-page study that spans back to the eighteenth century, the question as to where the hype around Piketty’s book comes from deserves to be asked. What is correct in it? What are the criticisms of it? And what should we make of it—both of the book itself and of the criticism it has received? This book lays out the argument of Piketty’s monumental work in a compact and understandable format, while also investigating the controversies that this book has caused. In addition, the two authors demonstrate the limits, contradictions and errors of the so-called ‘Piketty revolution’.


  • Keynes 2030

    In 1930, the economist John Maynard Keynes published a "letter to our grandchildren," in which he speculated about what kind of future industrial societies would have a hundred years later. Here Pascal Riché of L'obs interviews André Orléan, who has written a preface to this astonishing text. Translated by David Broder. 

    From an illustration by Edward McKnight Kauffer for
    The World in 2030 A.D. (1930) by the Earl of Birkenhead. 

    Les Liens qui libèrent have republished John Maynard Keynes’s odd little essay Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, under the title Lettre à nos petits-enfants [Letter to Our Grandchildren]. Here Keynes journeyed a hundred years forward in order to imagine the society of the future. According to Keynes, by 2030 growth will have put an end to poverty. We will live in a society of abundance, in which we will work very little; an era in which "we prefer to devote our further energies to non-economic purposes." "The love of money … will be recognised for what it is, a somewhat disgusting morbidity." For André Orléan, the interest of this text lies in the break with capitalism that Keynes foresees therein.

    Do you think this little text is a visionary one?

    It really is an astonishing text. Here we discover that even at the end of the 1920s Keynes foresaw that economic activity would be "between four and eight times as high as it is today" a century later. And already today, in constant currency, the Western countries’ GDP is over four times higher than it was in 1930. This prediction is all the more remarkable given that he made it during a very troubled period — the crisis of 1929 — at a time when few statistics were available. To get a measure of the boldness of Keynes’s text, imagine the difficulties an economist today would face if she set out out to predict the level of development in a hundred years’ time.

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