Despite Piketty's popularity, his message is harsh. He labels as “a fairy tale” the long-accepted idea that wealth and income will be more evenly distributed within nations as they develop, and suggests that even the best run capitalist economies concentrate riches at the top. The reason: In the long run, he says, the return paid to owners of capital is higher than the rate of economic growth.
These provocative conclusions are based primarily on a huge database of tax records that Piketty and a team of 30 researchers around the globe have assembled from more than 20 countries, including the United States. From atop this mountain of data, Piketty is able to offer a 2-century retrospective view of capitalism and make predictions about its future. The database is, Piketty writes, “the largest historical database concerning the evolution of income inequality.”
“In 1900,” he said, “most people would have said a progressive income tax would never happen.” But it happened.
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