Who’d have thought that the latest celebrity would be a mild-mannered economics professor? Whether you agree or disagree with it, no one can dispute that Thomas Piketty’s Capital In The 21st Century has become a major sensation. It is the number one best-selling book on Amazon.com, and demand was so high that it’s sold out and Harvard University Press is scrambling to print more. (Which is not a common occurrence for the home of works like Homeric Performance in a Diachronic Perspective, Molecular and Cellular Physiology of Neurons, and Proceedings Of The Harvard Celtic Colloquium.) (And I mean no disrespect to academic publishing, so don’t react like art history majors did to President Obama’s semi-insult. It’s just that academic books don’t tend to outsell murder mysteries, diet books, or bodice-rippers!)
Since the book is on back-order, we all have an excuse for not reading it (although several reviewers, who one assume got copies, managed to trash the book without reading it as well . . . ). But in a nutshell, he uses 200 years of data to show that when the rate of return on investment (which helps the wealthiest) outstrips the rate of economic growth (which boosts the rest of us), wealth inequality gets even more entrenched, in ways that are not good for society or the country, which is why we’ve entered a ‘second Gilded Age.’ Oh, and he disproves the Kuznets Curve (which was a 1950s graphic illustration of the way market forces supposedly straightened out income inequality all by themselves).
So now you can participate in the incredibly heated discussion – liberals swoon over Piketty, while conservatives accuse him of being a socialist wealth-hater who is the second coming of Karl Marx. Naturally, as a liberal, I’m a fan – but I also love the fact that his writing is surprisingly accessible and he even manages to include references to Jane Austen. Plus he’s boyishly handsome and French! (Although he had me at the Jane Austen . . . .)
Since – to the best of my knowledge – no one has ever written a love song to an economist, I thought it was about time.