After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality

In After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality, editors Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum bring together contributors to reflect on the influence of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and to draw attention to topics less explored in Piketty’s analysis. While this is a work of serious scholarship that is suited primarily to an academic audience, these reflections on inequality as an economic as well as moral, social and political issue are of significance for all, finds Asad Abbasi. 

After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality. Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum (eds). Harvard University Press. 2017.

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Life expectancy for people living around Canary Wharf is 89 years. For people at Canada Water, the next stop on the Jubilee line, life expectancy is 78 years. The life expectancy gap of eleven years between these two stations is equal to that between Switzerland and Bangladesh or between British women born in 2011 and British women born in the 1950s.

What explains such a dramatic change in life expectancy within a two-minute tube journey? One probable answer is that London is an unequal city. The richest ten per cent in London own 62.8 per cent of the city’s total wealth. This disparity pervades other forms of inequality such as education, political voice and even the ‘basic unit of inequality’, the life expectancy rate. But how can we account for this unequal distribution?

In 2013, Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century provided a sophisticated explanation for inequality in the western world. Unequal wealth, Piketty posited, has less to do with productivity or efficiency than with ‘the process by which wealth is accumulated and distributed’ which ‘contains powerful forces pushing towards divergence, or at any rate towards an extremely high level of inequality’ (2013, 27). Analysing this, Piketty found that historically…

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