The mystery of the Piketty phenomenon

Interesting post by Dani Rodrik of Princeton about the reception of Piketty’s book;

I would have liked to claim that I was prescient in foreseeing the huge academic and popular success that the book would have upon publication. In truth, the book’s reception has been a big surprise.

For one thing, the book is hardly an easy read. It is almost 700 pages long (including the notes), and, though Piketty does not spend much time on formal theory, he is not beyond sprinkling an occasional equation or Greek letters throughout the text. Reviewers have made much of Piketty’s references to Honoré de Balzac and Jane Austen; yet the fact is that the reader will encounter mainly an economist’s dry prose and statistics, while the literary allusions are few and far between.

So why has it become a publishing sensation?

Rodrik thinks it has to do with the Zeitgeist.

It is difficult to believe that it would have had the same impact ten or even five years ago, in the immediate aftermath of the global financial crisis, even though identical arguments and evidence could have been marshaled then. Unease about growing inequality has been building up for quite some time in the United States. Middle-class incomes have continued to stagnate or decline, despite the economy’s recovery. It appears that it is now acceptable to talk about inequality in America as the central issue facing the country. This might explain why Piketty’s book has received greater attention in the US than in his native France.

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