Thomas Piketty and the Search for r

In: Historical Materialism
Michael Roberts

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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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