Well, I never intended to begin a mini-industry of Piketty interpretation and exegesis. I just set out to read Capital in the Twenty-First Century carefully so that I could assemble it’s full argument in my head and on paper, and then critically evaluate it. But in the process of working up my interpretation, I ran into a profusion of reviews, journalistic responses, and blog comments, many from reputable sources, that were so muddled and full of interpretive errors that I felt increasingly compelled to correct them. I’ve been trying to do my small bit to prevent the public record from becoming so polluted with erroneus representations of what Piketty says and doesn’t say that the work itself would end up buried under a mountain of confusion.
Here are my most recent Piketty posts, each of which appeared over the past two weeks, listed from the most recent to least recent. I believe the third and fourth posts in the list are probably the most important:
And here is a link to my earlier series of posts on Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century:
My academic training as an analytic philosopher was based primarily on the idea that it is impossible to have an informed and intelligent response to an argument until one understands the argument thoroughly. The argument of Capital in the Twenty-First Century is long and complex, running for over 450 pages, even if one leaves out the final three chapters that deal with policy recommendations rather than economic analysis. Many of the responses to the book have been superficial, to put it mildly, and are as a result rife with inaccuracies.
I have a message for economics students – particularly graduate students: In my opinion, Piketty adopts a somewhat unique conceptual framework in the book that is especially tailored to addressing distributional questions, rather than those questions about growth, production, employment, investment and consumption that tend to form the central topics of most contemporary macroeconomics. Familiar concepts are sometimes defined in importantly different ways than is customary for economists who work mainly with this material in the context of growth or production models. I also believe the model is inherently dynamic and unconcerned with equilibrium conditions. Please try to encourage your professors to devote fall seminar courses to the book, and make an effort to build up Piketty’s model of the dynamics of wealth and income distribution from the text itself, rather than from hasty, short-cut modifications of models pulled out of the pre-existing kit bag. Piketty’s work really needs to be saved from the accretions of inaccurate reviews and interpretive distortions that have already built up around the work.