NEW YORK (MainStreet) — The reviews are in: "The book of the season." "A masterpiece." "Explosive." "Fearsome." Sounds like a page-turning thriller, a perfect best-selling beach read, right? Instead, it's a nearly 700-page book on economics that is rocking the literati and topping the Amazon book sales list.
Released in France a year ago, but with the English translation published just last month, "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" is French economist Thomas Piketty's thesis on income inequality, painting a grim future of capital gains from investments exceeding the growth of output and income -- transforming developed nations from meritocracies to oligarchies. A redistribution of wealth that, in effect, signals the end of capitalism.
"He has written a pioneering book that is at once thoughtful, measured, and provocative," says Rakesh Khurana, professor of leadership development at the Harvard Business School, in a review. "The force of his case rests not on a diatribe or a political agenda, but on carefully collected and analyzed data and reasoned thought. The book should have a major impact on our discussions of contemporary inequality and its meaning for our democratic institutions and ideals. I can only marvel at Piketty's discipline and rigor in researching and writing it."
Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman calls Piketty's work a "magnificent, sweeping meditation" of the long-term trends in inequality.
"The big idea of 'Capital in the Twenty-First Century' is that we haven't just gone back to nineteenth-century levels of income inequality, we're also on a path back to 'patrimonial capitalism,' in which the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties," Krugman writes in The New York Review of Books.
Rana Foroohar at Time says the bestseller is "freaking out the super wealthy" because the "rich are getting richer compared to everyone else, and their wealth isn't trickling down."
Piketty worked for 15 years to compile and analyze data from 20 countries, as far back as the eighteenth century, to reveal key economic and social patterns. But he also offers bold, perhaps unrealistic, solutions.
After citing research that money managers and financial professionals comprise up to 60% of the top 0.1% of income earners in the U.S., Piketty proposes a progressive global wealth tax — beginning at just 0.1% a year for minor wealth but rising to 2% for fortunes of $7 billion or more. In addition, he says that the U.S. should consider a return to a "confiscatory" top marginal tax bracket of 80%.
Perhaps this is a work of fiction, after all.
—Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet