The Economics of Inequality

In This Review

The Economics of Inequality
by Thomas Piketty. Translated by Arthur Goldhammer.
Harvard University Press, 2015
160 pp.
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Piketty first published this book in French in 1997, long before he became famous. Translated into English for the first time, it offers an exceptionally clear, cogent, and coherent discussion of economic inequality. The analysis is necessarily technical in places, but Piketty carefully explains the technicalities. He draws heavily on data from France and the United States but also offers broader international comparisons. The book also takes some instructive excursions into topics such as savings and investment, education, affirmative action, unions, and the minimum wage. Mainly, however, Piketty is concerned with the debate between those who argue that serious attempts to redistribute income will result in everyone being worse off and those who claim that social justice requires redistribution in modern economies and can be achieved without inflicting widespread damage. Piketty is sympathetic to the social justice argument but recognizes that the economic details of redistribution are devilishly complicated and that efficient redistributive policies depend quite a bit on the context in which they are adopted and applied.