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The Moral Dimensions of Capital: A Forum on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century

piketty-capital-21st-century

Index of Forum Posts

  1. Introduction
  2. Andrew Lucius
  3. Coleman Drake
  4. James Emmet
  5. Stephen B. Young
  6. Matthew Kim
  7. Daryl Koehn
  8. Jay Coggins (Friday, April 10)

Last fall, our Theology & Economics reading group read Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. An unlikely bestseller, Piketty’s book is a dense 700-page work of comparative and historical economics that attempts to determine what, exactly, is at the root of the growing inequality in contemporary capitalist societies.

We thought it would be interesting to publish a number of reflections from participants in the group, and others in the community who have engaged with Piketty. Some of the contributions will reflect on the reading group itself—what is it like to read Piketty in a reading group sponsored by a Christian study center?—and others will engage directly with the book itself.

Meanwhile, check out this compilation of resources on Piketty’s book. Given the media explosion that surrounded the book’s publication, there’s a lot of material to sift through, but we’ve found the best of it to share with you:

  • A significant excerpt from the introduction to Piketty’s book is available on the website of the publisher, Harvard University Press
  • You can also preview the book on Google Books or sample the book on Amazon
  • Thomas Piketty’s homepage provides extensive resources about the book and a technical appendix (pdf)
  • The Economist has summarized Capital in the Twenty-First Century in just four paragraphs
  • Thomas Piketty’s TED talk: “New Thoughts on Capital in the Twenty-First Century”
  • Bill Gates, “Why Inequality Matters”
  • John Cassidy provides an overview of Piketty’s life & work in the New Yorker:

    Another thing that Piketty doesn’t adequately consider is the possibility that inequality, in some of its dimensions, is not rising at all. His book largely focusses on Europe and the United States. At the global level, substantial progress has been made in dragging people out of destitution, and extending their lives. In 1981, according to figures from the World Bank, about two in five members of humanity were forced to subsist on roughly a dollar a day. Today, the figure is down to about one in seven. In the early nineteen-fifties, the average life expectancy in developing countries was forty-two years. By 2010, it had risen to sixty-eight years. “Life is better now than at almost any time in history,” Angus Deaton, a Princeton economist, wrote in his 2013 book, “The Great Escape: Health, Wealth, and the Origins of Inequality.” “More people are richer and fewer people live in dire poverty. Lives are longer and parents no longer routinely watch a quarter of their children die.”

  • Benjamin Kunkel offers a thorough and critical review from the left in the London Review of Books:

    The book is more exciting considered as a failure than as a triumph. Piketty has bid a lingering goodbye to the latter-day marginalism of mainstream economics but has not yet arrived at the reconstructed political economy foreseen at the outset. His theoretical reach fumbles where his statistical grasp is sure, and he leaves intact the questions of economic value, distributive justice and capitalist dynamics that he raises.

  • Tyler Cowen supplies an equally critical review from the libertarian right in “Capital Punishment: Why a Global Tax on Wealth Won’t End Inequality”:

    In perhaps the most revealing line of the book, the 42-year-old Piketty writes that since the age of 25, he has not left Paris, “except for a few brief trips.” Maybe it is that lack of exposure to conditions and politics elsewhere that allows Piketty to write the following words with a straight face: “Before we can learn to efficiently organize public financing equivalent to two-thirds to three-quarters of national income”—which would be the practical effect of his tax plan—“it would be good to improve the organization and operation of the existing public sector.” It would indeed. But Piketty makes such a massive reform project sound like a mere engineering problem, comparable to setting up a public register of vaccinated children or expanding the dog catcher’s office.

  • There are also a number of YouTube videos featuring Piketty and discussions of his work
  • If all this isn’t enough for you, Harvard University Press has been collecting reviews, articles, interviews, and more, by the dozen, on their page for the book

 


Check back throughout the week for more contributions to our forum. And please contribute through the comments section. Have you read Piketty’s book? Why or why not? If so, what did you think?

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