Has Thomas Piketty Gone Full Marxist?

With the 2013 publication of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty singlehandedly made inequality the focus of economic and political discourse. In his new book, he goes farther – advocating Marxist-like policies to achieve what he considers progress – greater equality.

Eight years ago I reviewed – favorably – French economist Piketty’s surprise best seller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century. At 576 pages it was a massive tome. His recent book, A Brief History of Equality is half the length. It was intended to be easier to read and understand.

But, I found large parts of it boring.

Instead of reading it, I recommend listening to Ezra Klein’s interview with Piketty. Klein asks the right questions, turning a one-sided and repetitious monologue into an interesting back-and-forth.

Piketty’s new book begins with what may be a surprise to those who read Capital in the Twenty-First Century. That earlier book made famous charts like the one below, which shows the changes in income inequality in the United States from 1910 to 2010, as measured by the percentage of income going to the top decile of the population. Those charts show that from the extreme inequality of the Gilded Age of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, inequality first decreased sharply starting with the Progressive era of the early 1900s, decreased more under Roosevelt’s New Deal and high levels of progressive taxation, then increased beginning with Reagan and cuts in rates of taxation (which had exceeded 90% at the highest marginal rate), resulting in levels of inequality now as high as in the Gilded Age.