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After Piketty: The Agenda for Economics and Inequality

by Heather Boushey, J. Bradford DeLong and Marshall Steinbaum Harvard University Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 688 pages
AU$49.99 NZ$52.17
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Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century is the most widely discussed work of economics in recent history, selling millions of copies in dozens of languages. But are its analyses of inequality and economic growth on target? Where should researchers go from here in exploring the ideas Piketty pushed to the forefront of global conversation? A cast of economists and other social scientists tackle these questions in dialogue with Piketty, in what is sure to be a much-debated book in its own right.


After Piketty opens with a discussion by Arthur Goldhammer, the book’s translator, of the reasons for Capital’s phenomenal success, followed by the published reviews of Nobel laureates Paul Krugman and Robert Solow. The rest of the book is devoted to newly commissioned essays that interrogate Piketty’s arguments. Suresh Naidu and other contributors ask whether Piketty said enough about power, slavery, and the complex nature of capital. Laura Tyson and Michael Spence consider the impact of technology on inequality. Heather Boushey, Branko Milanovic, and others consider topics ranging from gender to trends in the global South. Emmanuel Saez lays out an agenda for future research on inequality, while a variety of essayists examine the book’s implications for the social sciences more broadly. Piketty replies to these questions in a substantial concluding chapter.


An indispensable interdisciplinary work, After Piketty does not shy away from the seemingly intractable problems that made Capital in the Twenty-First Century so compelling for so many.

Introduction: Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Three Years Later [J. Bradford DeLong, Heather Boushey, and Marshall Steinbaum]

I. Reception

1. The Piketty Phenomenon [Arthur Goldhammer]

2. Thomas Piketty Is Right [Robert M. Solow]

3. Why We’re in a New Gilded Age [Paul Krugman]

II. Conceptions of Capital

4. What’s Wrong with Capital in the Twenty-First Century’s Model? [Devesh Raval]

5. A Political Economy Take on W / Y [Suresh Naidu]

6. The Ubiquitous Nature of Slave Capital [Daina Ramey Berry]

7. Human Capital and Wealth before and after Capital in the Twenty-First Century [Eric R. Nielsen]

8. Exploring the Effects of Technology on Income and Wealth Inequality [Laura Tyson and Michael Spence]

9. Income Inequality, Wage Determination, and the Fissured Workplace [David Weil]

III. Dimensions of Inequality

10. Increasing Capital Income Share and Its Effect on Personal Income Inequality [Branko Milanovic]

11. Global Inequality [Christoph Lakner]

12. The Geographies of Capital in the Twenty-First Century: Inequality, Political Economy, and Space [Gareth A. Jones]

13. The Research Agenda after Capital in the Twenty-First Century [Emmanuel Saez]

14. Macro Models of Wealth Inequality [Mariacristina De Nardi, Giulio Fella, and Fang Yang]

15. A Feminist Interpretation of Patrimonial Capitalism [Heather Boushey]

16. What Does Rising Inequality Mean For the Macroeconomy? [Mark Zandi]

17. Rising Inequality and Economic Stability [Salvatore Morelli]

IV. The Political Economy of Capital and Capitalism

18. Inequality and the Rise of Social Democracy: An Ideological History [Marshall I. Steinbaum]

19. The Legal Constitution of Capitalism [David Singh Grewal]

20. The Historical Origins of Global Inequality [Ellora Derenoncourt]

21. Everywhere and Nowhere: Politics in Capital in the Twenty-First Century [Elisabeth Jacobs]

V. Piketty Responds

22. Toward a Reconciliation between Economics and the Social Sciences [Thomas Piketty]




'The book serves as a fantastic introduction to Piketty’s main argument in Capital [in the Twenty-First Century], and to some of the main criticisms, including doubt that his key equation - [r > g], showing that returns on capital grow faster than the economy - will hold true in the long run. It also contains thoughtful interventions in debates about the political economy of inequality.' - Aaron Reeves, Nature


'[Boushey, DeLong, and Steinbaum] have curated an impressive set of essays responding to Piketty’s work… Among them are deep dives into the assumptions underlying Piketty’s predictions, historical accounts of the role of slavery and gender in capitalist systems, and considerations of the relationship between concentrated wealth and political power. The essays put Piketty’s arguments into a broad historical and intellectual context and highlight some noteworthy omissions that call into question his book’s most dire predictions. At the end of the volume, Piketty himself weighs in. The result is an intellectual excursion of a kind rarely offered by modern economics.' - Melissa S. Kearney, Foreign Affairs


'The essays in After Piketty are impressively diverse, not only in their subject matter but also in the way they relate to Piketty’s original text. Several launch straightforward critiques of his work - both of what he has done and what he has failed to do - while others present complementary ideas that aim to enrich his arguments.' - Matt Mazewski, Commonweal


'The topics discussed in the book affect all citizens. High inequality should concern everyone because it is a moral, social and political issue.' - Asad Abbasi, LSE Review of Books


'The book, edited by economists Heather Boushey, J. Bradford Delong and Marshall Steinbaum, is more interesting than the original. It benefits from having 21 essays on different inequality-related topics. As Piketty says in his gracious response, included at the end of this 660-page volume, the many authors bring a welcome breadth of expertise… Piketty’s commentators raise more questions than they answer, but they are important questions about a significant social challenge.' - Edward Hadas, Breakingviews


'Unusually for such a large and varied collection, almost all the papers are worth reading. They repeat themselves rarely; they examine multiple different perspectives; and most of them are well and conservatively argued… [Piketty’s concluding essay] is written with great attention to criticism and humility about his conclusions. In it, Piketty insists that [Capital in the Twenty-First Century’s] purpose was to start a conversation. By the evidence of his concluding essay, and the book in general, that conversation is well underway.' - Mihir S. Sharma, Business Standard


'Piketty’s work did what decades of rising disparities couldn’t do: it reminded macroeconomists that inequality matters. More starkly, it laid bare just how ill-equipped our existing frameworks are for understanding, predicting, and changing inequality. This extraordinary collection shows that our most nimble social scientists are responding to the challenge, collecting ideas about capital, technology, power, gender, race, and privilege that might help inform a broader understanding.' - Justin Wolfers, University of Michigan


'Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century forcibly entered the public imagination in 2014, but the book’s impact on academic thinking and research is only just starting to be felt. The essays in After Piketty offer new findings and admirably lay out an agenda that will influence future research on inequality, opportunity, and measurement for years to come.' - Miles Corak, University of Ottawa


'Heather Boushey, Brad DeLong, and Marshall Steinbaum have convened and shaped an ambitious and refreshingly frank conversation about Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. This extraordinary gathering of two dozen authors - working across disciplinary boundaries - interrogates Piketty’s core claims about the causes, correlates, characteristics, and consequences of high and rising levels of income and wealth inequality in the West. The gathered authors celebrate and hone Capital’s far-reaching contributions; they also tackle substantial weaknesses and assess omissions. Readers unfamiliar with Capital will find an accessible synthesis, graduates of the original book will emerge with a more nuanced understanding, and inequality scholars - newcomers and veterans - will revise their research agendas.' - Janet C. Gornick, Professor of Political Science and Sociology, Stone Center on Socio-Economic Inequality, City University of New York
Heather Boushey is Executive Director and Chief Economist at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth.

J. Bradford DeLong is Professor of Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.

Marshall Steinbaum is Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, New York.