Thomas Piketty seminar

by Henry Farrell on January 4, 2016

We have finished publishing our seminar on Thomas Piketty. The participants (with links to their responses) are below.

The whole seminar is available on the WWW here.

If you prefer to read the seminar in PDF form, it’s available here.

If you would like the raw LaTeX file for the seminar (e.g. to remix under the Creative Commons license – see the PDF for more), it’s available here.

Finally, if you spot any typos, feel free to let me know in comments!


* Danielle Allen is a professor of government and director of the Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University. Education and Equality in the 21st Century.

* Elizabeth Anderson is the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor and John Dewey Distinguished University Professor of Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Michigan. The Politics behind Piketty.

* Kenneth Arrow is the Joan Kenney Professor of Economics at Stanford, and is a winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. Which Inequalities Matter and Which Taxes are Appropriate?.

* Chris Bertram is Professor of Social and Political Philosophy at the University of Bristol. Piketty, Rousseau, and the Desire for Inequality.

* Ann Cudd is Professor of Philosophy and Dean of Arts and Sciences at Boston University. A critique of Piketty on the Normative Force of Wealth Inequality.

* Henry Farrell is an associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University. Piketty, in Three Parts.

* Olivier Godechot is professor of sociology and Co-Director of the Max-Planck Sciences-Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies. Resurgence of Capital or Rise of the Working Rich? On Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century,

* Margaret Levi is the Sara Miller McCune Director of the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences and Professor of Political Science at Stanford University. A New Agenda for the Social Sciences.

* JW Mason is an assistant professor of economics at John Jay College, CUNY. It’s Bargaining Power All the Way Down.

* Martin O’Neill is a senior lecturer in politics at the University of York. Piketty, Meade and Predistribution.

* John Quiggin is an Australian Research Council Laureate Fellow at the University of Queensland. Piketty and the Australian Exception.

* Miriam Ronzoni is a senior lecturer in political theory at the University of Manchester. Where are the Power Relations in Piketty’s Capital?

* Thomas Piketty is Professor of Economics at EHESS and at the Paris School of Economics. Capital, Predistribution and Redistribution.



JRLRC 12.07.15 at 4:56 pm

Great! Congratulations. And thank you.


Layman 12.07.15 at 5:29 pm

Wow, great news. I’m looking forward to it!


Rakesh Bhandari 12.07.15 at 5:38 pm

I love this book, and it has fundamentally changed the way in which I see the world.
But I have some criticism.

Piketty himself asks: Won’t too much capital kill the return on capital?

a. Piketty could have made the argument for r remaining positive in the 4-6% range as robotization proceeds more firmly on the basis of the Cambridge capital theory that he dismisses for unpersuasive reasons. Piketty is left with no sound theoretical and causal basis for his projection.

This Cambridge theory would have allowed him to show more coherently what he is claiming — that r can remain positive due both (1) to the usefulness of technology and (2) the economic power that capital gains in the course of the substitution of capital for labor,which allows capital to appropriate a greater share of the surplus and thereby enjoy at least a stable, if not rising, r.

See, e.g.,

In short, the Cambridge capital theory he dismisses is the perfect theoretical basis for exactly the claims that he is making as to why r will not fall precipitously in the course of capital accumulation; it is that theory that shows how r is positively correlated with the usefulness of technology and the socio-economic power of capital.

(the real problems with Cambridge capital theory escape him–that its results rely on an equilibrium framwork in which real time is eliminated just as it is in neo-classical economics).

b. Yet though critical of the rentier, Piketty has a rentier’s disregard for–and this is what a Marxist would emphasize on the basis of another capital theory– how the production process would have to be continuously reorganized as capital accumulates for the value added to be great enough for r to remain in the range that he posits. In short, the actual organization of production and conditions of work remain an abode that he hides from view. One thinks here of the lock-out in Allegheny Steel


js. 12.07.15 at 5:51 pm

Yay! I was hoping this would happen.


Rakesh Bhandari 12.07.15 at 7:18 pm

Will any of the commentators be discussing Piketty’s political analysis of inequality in the Middle East, land reform in South Africa where Piketty enjoyed a very warm reception and global carbon emissions? He has had some important and controversial things to say!


Rakesh Bhandari 12.07.15 at 7:31 pm

Other questions:

1. was Piketty right to exclude “human capital” from capital?

2. doesn’t Branko Milanovic’s analysis of global inequality show us that the most important inherited “asset” is citizenship in a wealthy country as determined by what Ayelet Shachar calls the global birthright lottery, not capital or wealth as Piketty defines it?

3. is Debraj Ray correct that Piketty has r>g doing the work of creating a rentier society though this simply assumes the returns on capital will be saved and invested at the requisite rate? For example, if Piketty’s argument assumes that an unreasonably high percentage of returns is saved and invested–and he argues that he does not– that would leave rentiers living on air as some kind of ascetic social servant of the accumulation process. But that won’t happen, and savings could fall, thereby reducing his beta equation and (if r does not rise) the income from capital as a share of income.


Rakesh Bhandari 12.07.15 at 7:52 pm

Hope there is discussion of Piketty’s analysis of Sovereign Wealth Funds as well his brilliant equation for the transmission of inheritance. Just two more results of this truly great study that belongs in magnificent French social scientific tradition of Braudel and Bourdieu.


Aidan R 12.07.15 at 9:06 pm

This is a great line up. Looking forward to reading more. Some of you may be interested in my teaching blog dedicated to a close reading of Capital in the 21st Century, complemented with a comparative political economy story on the politics behind economic inequality.


Chris Brooke 12.07.15 at 9:27 pm

Not a bad line-up at all.


Rakesh Bhandari 12.07.15 at 11:23 pm

@8. thank you for this, Aidan. In your very helpful summary I recognize the book the book that I read. The rest of the blog seems really interesting too.


Rakesh Bhandari 12.07.15 at 11:39 pm

I have also found helpful Robert Solow’s review of the book, Steven Pressman’s book-length discussion and Marshall Steinbaum’s Piketty-explained (best defense I have read of Piketty on the difficult marginal rate of substitution question).


PJW 12.08.15 at 3:05 am

Heartfelt thanks!


Terence 12.08.15 at 7:22 am

Well done! Thank you.


ccc 12.08.15 at 8:33 am

Great lineup, bound to be interesting stuff.

If anyone wants to do a refresh before reading the seminar contributions then go read

Piketty 2015 Putting Distribution Back at the Center of Economics: Reflections on Capital in the Twenty-First Century ,

In that text Piketty summarize parts of the book and reflect and comment on some of the receptions and what he thinks commentators have underplayed.


David Alex 12.08.15 at 4:23 pm

Great timing! (I finished Capital in C21 a couple weeks ago).


Rakesh Bhandari 12.08.15 at 4:35 pm

@14 yes, interesting piece by Piketty. He tries to explain that the greater the fundamental inequality, the more the random shocks to inequality in wealth holdings will be amplified. He reiterates his finding that those who hold relatively more wealth tend to have relatively higher returns–a point that he shows in the book by comparing the returns on college endowments, e.g. Harvard has much higher returns on its endowment. He grants that r>g inequality does not in itself amplify inequality and that other conditions must be met. He grants that he cannot be certain about the behavior of r as capital accumulates. A thoughtful and at times difficult piece–more geared towards his economist readers.


magari 12.10.15 at 1:43 pm

A very nice surprise. Well done.


djw 01.04.16 at 5:12 pm

Well done, all. I learned a great deal.


UTorontoAP 01.04.16 at 7:27 pm

This is great. Thanks to everyone involved.

Two notes: the link to Piketty’s response above is a 404, and the LaTeX file needs to be accompanied by the figs to be much help.


Kiwanda 01.05.16 at 3:20 am

Apologies if this is totally irrelevant and/or subsumed by a vast discussion I haven’t read, but I liked Dean Baker’s recent paper “The Upward Redistribution of Income: Are Rents the Story?”, which seems to constitute an alternative explanation for the rich getting richer. He points to rents (in a broad sense) for patents and copyright, in finance, and in the pay of CEOs and doctors.


The Temporary Name 01.06.16 at 10:13 pm

Many thanks to our hosts and the participants, posters and commenters alike.


r 01.27.16 at 5:16 pm

The LaTeX file is uncompileable as it stands by me (and UTorontoAP above, it seems), primarily due to missing figures. Can you change the link to maybe a .zip of all the files needed?


Henry 01.27.16 at 5:37 pm


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