Thomas Piketty: "Capital in the Twenty-First Century"


Star economist Thomas Piketty presented the English version of his global bestseller, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century", at the OECD on 3 July 2014 as part of The Coffees of the Secretary-General series. Read the complete transcript of Mr Piketty's presentation below.

Presentation: “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”

Thank you for this opportunity to talk about my book ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’. I was here a few months ago presenting the book when it was available in French. I do not remember whether I spoke English or French then, but as you can hear it does not make a big difference, I will be speaking in English today.

The book is quite long as it does put together extensive historical material from many countries across three centuries. What I try to do in this book is study the global dynamics of income and wealth distribution in several dozen countries since the 18th Century. Let me make it clear that this is a collective research programme. I am the only author of the book and the only one responsible any possible, however I am certainly not the only one involved in the collection of data.

There are two big parts in the data, one is about income and the other about wealth. I began collecting income and wealth data on France about 15 years ago; I was very fortunate to work with a number of people who helped on the collection of data for different countries: Anthony Atkinson for Britain, Emmanuel Saez for the US, Facundo Alvaredo for Argentina and Spain, Abhijit Banerjee for India; and several dozen other people participated in the world income database project which is the very first part of the dataset which I have been using in this book.

The second part of the data is about wealth. This was collected in particular with Gabriel Zucman. It is a historical national balance sheet to study the evolution of the wealth to income ratio over long periods of time. The book also uses data on the long-run evolution of wealth inequality and distribution. In this case, the data is unfortunately available for fewer countries as we do not have an annual wealth tax in the same manner that we have an annual income tax and the data sources on wealth are structurally more limited than they are for income. On the other hand however, in some countries including France, the data that we have for wealth goes back much further in time than the data on income because wealth registration started well before income registration. The modern income tax was initiated typically around 1910-1920, whereas tax on inheritance in France began much earlier dating back to the French revolution. These are the broad sources of information which I use in this book.

The book is divided into four parts. Part four focuses on some conclusions for the future, but let me stress that I do not claim that my conclusions are the only possible options, and if you disagree with all or some of my conclusions, that is perfectly fine with me, I believe you will still find some interest in the historical data presented in the first three parts of the book.  We are involved with social sciences and I do not claim that there is only one mathematical conclusion from the historical data. We still have far too little data to be sure about anything, this book and the research being done today will not conclude the arguments on inequality, but they do contribute to the debate and to a more informed discussion. I will present certain results today, but all my findings are available online…

Get the full transcript here

Short Biography

Thomas Piketty is Professor of Economics at the Paris School of Economics and at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS). He has an M.Sc. in Mathematics from the École normale supérieure (ENS, Paris) and a PhD in Economics from EHESS and LSE (European Doctoral Programme in Economics).

He is the author of a dozen books including the seminal "Capital in the Twenty-First Century", as well as numerous articles published in journals such as the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the Journal of Political Economy, the American Economic Review and the Review of Economic Studies.

He has done major historical and theoretical work on the interplay between economic development and the distribution of income and wealth. In particular, he is the initiator of the recent literature on the long run evolution of top income shares in national income (now available in the World Top Incomes Database).

These works have led to radically question the optimistic relationship between development and inequality posited by Kuznets, and to emphasise the role of political and fiscal institutions in the historical evolution of income and wealth distribution.


Economic data


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