Thomas Piketty and the Search for r

in Historical Materialism
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Thomas Piketty’s magnum opus on the accumulation and distribution of wealth over the last 200 years has been greeted with the biggest noise from mainstream (and heterodox) economics of any economics book. Piketty shows that inequality of wealth and income is inherent to capitalism and it is getting worse. The reason for the rise in the inequality of wealth is a rise of income going to capital in the form of profits, rent and interest. Inequality is not due to higher-skilled labour getting higher income than the lower-skilled. The central question for Piketty’s thesis is whether rising inequality is the central contradiction of capitalism and thus its gravedigger. Is it a tendency for a rising net return on capital (Piketty) or is it the tendency for a falling rate of profit (Marx) that is the key contradiction of capitalism in the twenty-first century?

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References

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CarchediGuglielmoRobertsMichael ‘The Long Roots of the Present Crisis: Keynesians, Austerians, and Marx’s Law’ World Review of Political Economy 2013 4 1 86 115 available at: <https://thenextrecession.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/the-long-roots-of-the-present-crisis.pdf>.

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ChotinerIsaac ‘Thomas Piketty: I Don’t Care for Marx’ New Republic 2014 May 5 available at: <http://www.newrepublic.com/article/117655/thomas-piketty-interview-economist-discusses-his-distaste-marx>.

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KaldorNicholas ‘Economic Growth and Verdoorn’s Law: A Comment on Mr. Rowthorn’s Article’ The Economic Journal 1975 85 340 891 896

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MaitoEsteban Ezequiel ‘Income Distribution, Turnover Speed and Profit Rate in Japan, Chile, Netherlands and United States’ 2014a available at: <http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/59283/>.

MaitoEsteban Ezequiel ‘The Historical Transience of Capital: The Downward Trend in the Rate of Profit since the Nineteenth Century’ 2014b available at: <http://mpra.ub.uni-muenchen.de/55894/1/mpra_paper_55894.pdf>.

MarxKarl FowkesBen Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Volume One 1976 Harmondsworth Penguin

MilanovicBranko ‘The Return of “Patrimonial Capitalism”: A Review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century Journal of Economic Literature 2014 52 2 519 534

MorenoKasia ‘The 67 Richest Are as Wealthy as the World’s Poorest 3.5 Billion’ 2014 available at: <http://www.sanders.senate.gov/newsroom/must-read/67-richest-wealthy-poorest-billion>.

MoseleyFred ‘The Rate of Surplus Value, the Organic Composition, and the General Rate of Profit in the u.s. Economy, 1947–67: A Critique and Update of Wolff’s Estimates’ American Economic Review 1988 78 1 298 303

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PikettyThomas ‘Appendix to Chapter 10, “Inequality of Capital Ownership”. Addendum: Response to ft 2014c May 28 available at: <http://piketty.pse.ens.fr/files/capital21c/en/Piketty2014TechnicalAppendixResponsetoft.pdf>.

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2

Milanovic 2014.

3

Krugman 2014.

4

Wolf 2014.

5

Cassidy 2014.

6

See Piketty and Zucman 2013.

7

Oxfam International 2014. Actually it is probably only 67 people since Oxfam’s data were compiled, according to the website of the independent-left Senator Sanders of Vermont – see Moreno 2014.

8

Piketty 2014a, p. 577.

11

See Saez and Zucman 2014.

13

Kuznets 1955. Kuznets predicted that inequality in economies would take the form of a bell curve: rising inequality as market economies emerged, then as they matured, falling inequality. In contrast, Piketty sees a U-curve: high inequality with a brief period of lower inequality and then a return to high inequality. See Piketty 2014a, p. 13.

16

Piketty 2014a, p. 1.

17

Piketty 2014a, p. 9.

18

Piketty 2014a, p. 10.

19

Piketty 2014a, p. 27.

21

Piketty 2014a, p. 46.

22

Piketty 2014a, p. 47.

23

Piketty 2014a, p. 53.

24

Piketty 2014a, p. 48.

25

Piketty 2014a, p. 52.

27

Piketty 2014a, p. 170.

28

Piketty 2014a, p. 348.

29

Piketty 2014a, p. 77.

31

Piketty 2014a, p. 93.

32

Piketty 2014a, p. 97.

33

Piketty 2014a, p. 55.

34

See Ibbotson and Sinquefield 2010.

36

Picketty 2014a, p. 118.

37

Picketty 2014a, p. 122.

39

Piketty 2014a, p. 173.

40

Piketty 2014a, p. 191.

41

Picketty 2014a, p. 173.

42

Solow 1956.

43

Piketty 2014a, p. 173.

45

Piketty 2014a, p. 173.

46

Piketty 2014a, p. 463.

47

Piketty 2014a, p. 466.

48

Piketty 2014a, p. 228.

49

Marx 1976, pp. 130–1.

50

Maito 2014a and Moseley 1988.

51

For example, see Carchedi and Roberts 2013, which also references many other studies on p. 114.

52

Maito 2014b.

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