Pages: 1041 (including inline footnotes, excluding index)
Piketty became an international intellectual super-star back in 2014 after releasing Capital in the 21st Century. Capital and Ideology (published in English in February 2020) is his followup book, intended to answer the question "What now? Can we do something about wealth inequality?"
I can summarize Piketty's answer fairly briefly.
There is nothing natural or inevitable about the level of income or wealth inequality that currently exists. In fact, inequality was much lower across a broad range of societies in the period 1950-1980 AND economic growth was higher.
There are proven policies that we could use to radically reduce inequality like steeply progressive income taxes, inheritance taxes, and wealth taxes. Coupled with transnational treaties and transnational governance designed to eliminate tax competition between nations, we could radically and quickly reduce inequality. It is desirable that we do so for reasons of innate economic justice, to build funding and support for critical initiatives like combatting climate change, and because extreme inequality is fostering zenophobia and division.
But Piketty is not brief. In fact, Capital and Ideology is 1041 pages long. What's worse is that you could get the gist of his argument if you read the 47 pages of the introduction and the 75 pages of Chapter 17: Elements of a participatory socialism for the 21st Century.
So why is Capital and Ideology so long?
- Piketty (or his translator) is wordy: several times I found myself taking a pencil and editing an entire long paragraph down to a sentence.
- The book is repetitious. Given how long it is, the repetition can be helpful. On the other hand, if the book were shorter it might not be as necessary.
- Piketty took both the praise and the critiques of Capital in the 21st Century a bit too seriously:
- The quotations from Austen and Balzac in that book really enlivened his descriptions of the economies of 19th Century Britain and France. His attempts to find relevant literature to quote when describing the economies of every nation and every time period included in this book just seems laboured.
- Piketty was obviously critiqued for focusing too much on Western economies in Capital in the 21st Century, and he makes a real effort to discuss a wider range of nations in Capital and Ideology. Unfortunately, data for many of these countries is not as complete, which makes his efforts to be more inclusive sometime feel more like a 'tickbox' exercise than a true broadening of the discussion.
Reading this book in 2022 reminded me how different the world feels today than it did in 2019, post-pandemic, post-Floyd George, post-Ukraine invasion, and as the climate crisis accelerates.
If you want to learn more about Capital and Ideology, you can check out some of the professional reviews of the book, like this one from The Guardian. You can also check out some of the notes I made after finishing it.