I Was Right About Piketty

Michael EdesessReaders may recall that in 2014, a weighty (700-page) and abstruse book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, written by French economist Thomas Piketty, became a surprise best seller, reaching number one on The New York Times best seller list for hard-cover nonfiction. The book had been published a year earlier in French to little fanfare, but sold well in foreign languages after its English translation achieved best-seller status.

My review of the book for Advisor Perspectives was published on May 6 of that year. It was titled, “The Book that will Reshape the Study of Economics.” In the review I wrote, “The book uses data to develop a framework for its analysis that will embed it firmly in the intellectual history of the coming decades, if not the coming centuries.” I further wrote, “It will be Piketty’s data and framework, not his conclusions or policy recommendations, that propel his book to the center of discussion and debate about economics and our economic future.”

It is too soon to tell if these predictions will prove accurate. But much discussion of economics since the book’s publication has indeed been influenced by Piketty’s data and analytic framework.

The data contained in two of his graphs has entered the general consciousness about economics and its history. The information it reveals was not unknown prior to Piketty’s book, but because it became a best seller it became widespread knowledge. In particular, the data in Figures 1 and 2 below have become more widely known than they would have been otherwise.