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Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty (7 May 1971) is a French economist who works on wealth and income inequality. He is a professor (directeur d'études) at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS), associate chair at the Paris School of Economics and Centennial professor at the London School of Economics new International Inequalities Institute.

Articles by Thomas Piketty

Basic income in India

8 days ago

The biggest election in world history has just begun in India: there are over 900 million electors. It is often said that India learned the art of parliamentary democracy through contact with the British. The observation is not entirely false, provided that we add that India is now implementing this art on an unprecedented scale in a political community of 1.3 billion people, split along huge socio-cultural and linguistic divisions, which is a much more complex issue.
Meanwhile the United Kingdom has considerably difficulty in remaining united at the level of the British Isles. Following in the steps of Ireland at the beginning of the 20th century, it may just possibly be Scotland’s turn to leave the United Kingdom and its Parliament at this start of the 21st century. For its part,

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To love Europe is to change it

March 12, 2019

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To love Europe is to want to change it. The French and German governments which have been in power for the past 10 years claim to be Europhiles but the truth is that they are first and foremost Euroconservatives. They do not wish to make any fundamental changes to present-day Europe, for fear of losing their power and their illusory hold over Brussels affairs. By so doing, they are digging Europe’s grave. Even Brexit does not seem to give them reason for doubt.
The most recent episode is the Franco-German Treaty, or the so-called Elysée Treaty, renegotiated in January, proposing the creation of a Franco-German Parliamentary Assembly to enable the elected members from both countries to discuss questions of defence or of company law together. This is an excellent

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Wealth tax in America

February 12, 2019

What if the final blow for Emmanuel Macron came from the Massachusetts State senator and not from the yellow vests ? Elizabeth Warren, Harvard University law professor, not really an adept of Chavism or urban guerrilla warfare, a declared candidate in the Democratic primaries in 2020, has just made public what will doubtless be one of the key points in the coming campaign, namely the creation for the first time in the United States of a genuine federal progressive wealth tax. Carefully calculated by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman, supported by the best constitutionalists, the Warren Proposal sets a rate of 2% on fortunes valued at between 50 million and 1 billion dollars, and 3% above 1 billion. The proposal also provides for an exit tax equal to 40% of total wealth for those who

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1789, the return of the debt

January 15, 2019

One of the ideas raised by the yellow vests is the possibility of a referendum on the cancellation of the public debt. For some, this type of proposal, already heard in Italy, demonstrates the extent of the ‘populist’ danger: how can one possibly imagine not repaying a debt? In reality history shows that it is customary to resort to exceptional solutions when the debt reaches this type of level. However, a referendum would not enable us to solve such a complex problem. There are numerous ways of cancelling a debt, with very different social effects. This is what should be discussed instead of leaving these decisions to others and to the forthcoming crises.
To ensure that everyone can make up their minds, I am going to give two sets of information here. The first concerns the

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« Yellow vests » and tax justice

December 11, 2018

The crisis of the ‘yellow vests’ raises a key issue both in France and in Europe, namely that of fiscal justice. Since his election, Emmanuel Macron has spent considerable time in explaining to the country that the « premiers de cordée », i.e. the leading fortunes and industrialists, should be treated with care; the top priority was to grant tax cuts to the wealthiest, and as a start, the wealth tax abolished. All this was done at top speed, in a spirit of invincibility and without the slightest qualm of conscience. Even Nicolas Sarkozy had been wiser in 2007 with his ‘tax shield’ which he did nevertheless have to cancel in 2012. Inevitably all those who do not consider themselves to be ‘leading lights’ have felt abandoned and humiliated by the Macron discourse, and this is how we

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Manifesto for the democratisation of Europe

December 10, 2018

The Manifesto reproduced below has been open to signature by over 120 intellectuals, legal scholars, historians, economists and politicians from all over Europe (

We, European citizens, from different backgrounds and countries, are today launching this appeal for the in-depth transformation of the European institutions and policies. This Manifesto contains concrete proposals, in particular a project for a Democratization Treaty and a Budget Project which can be adopted and applied as it stands by the countries who so wish, with no single country being able to block those who want to advance. It can be signed on-line ( by all European citizens who identify with it. It can be amended and improved by any political movement.
Following Brexit and the election of

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« Le Monde » and the billionaires

November 13, 2018

So, the share ownership of the newspaper Le Monde is going to change. A French investment banker is going to sell his shares to a Czech billionaire who himself made a fortune in coal mining and frequently used tax havens. Should we acquiesce in this situation or is it not time to consider the legal and fiscal regime which would enable us to re-shape the model of the media? Let us be very clear: we in no way wish to question the journalists or the management of the press. They campaign with courage and integrity to obtain from their shareholders all possible guarantees of independence both at Le Monde and in the other daily papers. The fact remains that one cannot avoid thinking about the laws which would have to be changed to avoid this type of situation.
It should be specified that

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Brazil: the First Republic under threat

October 16, 2018

In the United States, it was not until the mid 1960s that the former slaves finally obtained the right to sit in the same buses as whites, to go to the same schools and, at the same time, accede to the right to vote. In Brazil, the right to vote for the poor dates from the 1988 constitution, just a few years before the first multi-racial elections in South Africa in 1994.
The comparison may shock: the population in Brazil is much more mixed than the two other countries. In 2010, in the last census, 48% of the population declared themselves to be ‘white’, 43% ‘mixed’, 8% ‘black’ and 1% ‘Asian’ or ‘natives’. In reality, more than 90% of Brazilians are of mixed origin. The fact remains that social and racial divisions are closely linked. While Brazil is not a country devoid of racism,

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Social-nativism, the Italian nightmare

September 11, 2018

Since Spring 2018, Italy has been governed by a strange social-nativist coalition of the Five Star Movement (M5S) and the Lega, (the former Northern League). The Five Star Movement (M5S) is an anti-system and anti-establishment party, which is unclassifiable in the usual left-right typologies but one of its leitmotifs is a guaranteed basic income. The Lega is a regionalist and anti-tax movement, now converted into a nationalist party specialised in hunting foreigners. It would be an error to attribute this astonishing partnership to an Italian taste for exoticism. In reality, all the European governments have a share in the responsibility for the emergence of this type of coalition, as desperate as it is incoherent. If we are not careful the Italian social-nativist nightmare could

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Europe, migrants and trade

July 10, 2018

While European leaders are preparing to tighten the conditions of entry into the European Union it is worth trying to get a clearer picture of the current patterns of migration and more broadly of Europe’s positioning in the globalisation process.
The data available are incomplete but are sufficient to establish the main orders of magnitude. The most comprehensive data are those gathered by the United Nations Population Division on the basis of demographic statistics provided by each country and a patient labour of homogenisation. They serve to indicate the trend of the migratory flows entering and leaving the different countries in the world; they also include the sensitive issue of the World Population Prospects established for the decades to come. If we consider the most recent

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The Transferunion fantasy

June 12, 2018

While the political crisis deepens in Italy and in Spain, France and Germany are still demonstrably incapable of formulating precise and ambitious proposals for reforming Europe. All that is required however is for these four countries, who alone account for three quarters of the GDP and the population of the Euro zone, to agree on a common approach and the way to reform would be open. How can we explain such extraordinary inertia and why is it so serious?
In France, there is a tendency to lay the blame on other people. The official view is that our young and dynamic president has made innovative proposals for the reform of the Euro zone, its budget and its Parliament. But the unfortunate thing is that our neighbours are incapable of taking these into account and responding with

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May 1968 and inequality

May 8, 2018

Should we burn May ’68? Critics claim that the spirit of May ’68 has contributed to the rise of individualism, even to ultra-liberalism. In truth, these assertions do not stand up to close scrutiny. On the contrary, the May ’68 Movement was the start of a historical period of considerable reduction in social inequalities in France which ran out of steam later for quite different reasons.
Let’s go back for a moment. In France the years 1945-1967 are marked by high rates of growth, but also by a movement of reconstitution of inequalities, with, at one and the same time, a steep rise in the share of profits in national income and the reconstitution of highly ranked salary scales. The share of the 10% highest incomes which was barely 31% of total income in 1945 gradually rose to 38% in

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Capital in Russia

April 10, 2018

Next month Karl Marx will be 200 years old. What would he have thought of the sad state Russia is in today? This is a country which never ceased to claim to be ‘Marxist Leninist’ throughout the Soviet period. Doubtless he would have denied any responsibility for a regime which appeared long after his death. Marx grew up in a world of censitory oppression and private property sacralization, where even the owners of slaves could be handsomely compensated if their property was violated (for ‘liberals’ like Toqueville this was a matter of course). It would have been difficult for him to anticipate the success of social democracy and the welfare state in the 20th century. Marx was 30 years old at the time of the 1848 revolutions and he died in 1883, the year of Keynes’ birth. Both were

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Towards a Union in the Union

March 13, 2018

After the Italian elections and Trump’s commercial antics one might well feel depressed and be tempted to use Europe to play the same silly game of introverted assertion of identity – strengthening immigration laws and ramping up protectionist measures. In so doing, we would be forgetting two key points.
One: contrary to what we sometimes hear, the rise of European populism is not explained by any flood of immigrants. The truth is that the number of migrants entering the UE was much higher before the financial crisis (1.2 million per year between 2000 and 2008). The numbers then collapsed (500,000 per year between 2008 and 2016) whereas the geo-political situation would have demanded greater openness. If we had not made serious mistakes in managing the economy, provoking a further

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Parcoursup: could do better

February 13, 2018

All societies need a grand narrative to justify their inequalities. In contemporary societies, the focus is on the meritocratic narrative. Modern inequality is just because it is the outcome of a process which is freely chosen in which each individual has the same opportunities. The problem is that there is a yawning gap between the official meritocratic declarations and the reality.
In the United States, the chances of acceding to higher education are almost entirely determined by the income of one’s parents; barely 20% for the poorest 10%, and over 90% for the richest 10%. We should moreover make it clear that we are in no way talking of the same higher education in the two cases. Possibly, the situation is not quite as extreme in France. But the truth is that we do not really

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Democratising Europe begins with ECB nominations

January 29, 2018

This collective op-ed was initially published on January 22 2018 in Le Monde (in French) and in VoxEurop (in English).

While our eyes are glued to the interminable vicissitudes of the German Groko, a no less important story is playing out in Brussels, but has so far met with indifference. On January 22nd and February 19th, Eurogroup finance ministers will hold private meetings that will mark the beginning of a profound renewal of the European Central Bank executive board. The first big change will be the planned replacement of current Vice-President, Vitor Constancio. In the next two years, no less than 4 of the 6 members of the executive body of the ECB, Mario Draghi included, will be replaced.
All signs indicate that the future of economic, fiscal and monetary policy in eurozone

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2018, the year of Europe

January 16, 2018

Ten years after the financial crisis, will the year 2018 see Europe making a great leap forward? Several factors contribute to this view, but the outcome is far from certain.
The crisis in 2008, which triggered the sharpest global recession since the 1929 crisis, clearly originated in the increasingly obvious weaknesses of the American system: excessive deregulation, an explosion in inequalities, indebtedness of the poorest. Supported by a more equalitarian and inclusive model of development, Europe could have seized the opportunity to promote a better system of regulating global capitalism. However, the lack of trust between the members of the European Union, confined within rigid rules applied inappropriately, led them to provoke a further recession in 2011-2013 from which they

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Trump, Macron: same fight

December 12, 2017

It is customary to contrast Trump and Macron: on one hand the vulgar American businessman with his xenophobic tweets and global warming scepticism; and on the other, the well-educated, enlightened European with his concern for dialogue between different cultures and sustainable development. All this is not entirely false and rather pleasing to French ears. But if we take a closer look at the policies being implemented, one is struck by the similarities.
In particular, Trump, like Macron, has just had very similar tax reforms adopted. In both cases, these constitute an incredible flight in the direction of fiscal dumping in favour of the richest and most mobile.
Let me recap recent events. In the United States, the Senate has approved the main lines of the Trump plan ; the rate of

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The Catalan syndrom

November 14, 2017

Is the crisis in Catalonia due to over-centralization and the intransigeance of the authorities in Madrid? Or is it instead due to generalized competition between regions and countries rivalling with each other, each pursuing their own interests, a process which has already gone much too far both in Spain and in Europe?

Let’s take a step backwards. To explain the tougher pro-independence stand, reference is often made to the decision by the Spanish constitutional tribunal in 2010 to invalidate the new status of autonomy for Catalonia, following the high number of actions lodged by the elected members of the Popular Party. Even if some of the measures challenged  by the judges did pose serious substantive issues (in particular concerning the regionalisation of justice), the method

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Budget 2018: French youth sacrified

October 21, 2017

To date the debate on the 2018 budget in France has concentrated on the question of tax gifts to the most wealthy. De facto, the abolition of the wealth tax and the measures in favour of top dividends and interests will cost the State budget over 5 billion euros.
But it is also important to insist on the other side of the coin, in other words the losers in the 2018 budget and, in particular, on the young people sacrificed as a consequence of the fall in student expenditure per capita in higher education. This will also enable me to clarify a number of issues raised by internauts about my last post (see « Suppression of the wealth tax: an historical error« ).
Officially, the draft 2018 Budget Bill which the government has just tabled shows a slight increase in expenditure on higher

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Suppression of the wealth tax: an historical error

October 10, 2017

Let it be said at once: the suppression of the wealth tax (Impôt sur la Fortune or ISF) constitutes a serious moral, economic and historical mistake. This decision reveals a profound misunderstanding of the challenges to inequality posed by globalisation.
Let’s go back for a moment. During the first globalisation period between 1870 and 1914, a strong international movement gradually took shape which sought to promote a new type of redistribution and taxation. Based on a progressive taxation system on income, wealth and inheritance, this new model was aimed at a better distribution of productivity gains and the structural reduction of the concentration of property and economic power. It was successfully implemented in the period 1920 to 1970, partly as a result of the pressure of

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The CICE comedy

July 11, 2017

Yet another deferral! The government of Emmanuel Macron and Edouard Philippe had already announced the postponement of the deduction of income tax at source till 2019 for totally opportunist reasons. The risk is that this elementary reform in tax modernisation, awaited in France for decades, may finally never see the light of day, even though the scheme was all ready to come into operation in January 2018. The government has now announced the postponement until 2019 of the replacement of the CICE (Tax Credit for Competitiveness and Employment/ Crédit d’Impôt pour la Compétitivité et l’Emploi) by a long-term reduction in the employers’ contributions. This is despite the promise of this reform during the electoral campaign – and the fact that it had also been promised by François

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Will Macron’s Marchers take power?

June 26, 2017

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With over 350 seats, the MPs elected on the « La république en marche » (LREM) ticket will have an overwhelming majority in the Assemblée Nationale (Parliament). Will they use it to be in the forefront of reform and renewal of French politics? Or will they simply play a passive role, rubber stamping and obediently voting the texts that the government sends them?
It happens that they will shortly be faced with their first real-life test with the question of deduction of income tax at source. The government wishes to postpone the implementation until 2019, perhaps forever, for reasons which are totally opportunist and unjustified. This big step backwards is bad news for the alleged intention to reform and modernise the French fiscal and social system proclaimed

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Reagan to the power of ten

June 13, 2017

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Is Trump a UFO in American history or can he be seen as the continuation of long-term trends? While we have no desire to deny “Donald’s” obvious specificities, including his inimitable art of the tweet, we do have to admit that elements of continuity prevail.
The tax agenda which he has just tabled in Congress is eloquent. It can be summed up in two central measures: reduction of federal income tax on corporate profits from 35% to 15% (a rate which Trump would also like to see applied to individual entrepreneurs like himself); a total end to inheritance tax. This is clearly a direct prolongation of the programme for ‘scrapping’ the progressive tax launched by Reagan in the 1980s.
Let’s go back a bit. In order to counter the rise in inequality and the excessive

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What reforms for France?

May 16, 2017

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Will the election of Emmanuel Macron enable France to relaunch itself and revive Europe? We would like to think so but this is not guaranteed. The new president does have some good insights but the overall impression is of a programme in draft version and somewhat opportunist.
The most promising project is the modernisation and unification of our social protection. In France more than elsewhere, our social system has been constructed in stages with layers of reform stacked one on top of the other. The result is considerable complexity and illegibility. The most extreme example is the retirement pension schemes. The system is well financed but the multitude of schemes and rules means that nobody understands anything about his or her future rights. A

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Inequality in France

April 18, 2017

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A long-standing legend has it that France is a profoundly egalitarian country which has miraculously escaped the sharp rise in inequality observed elsewhere. If so, how can we explain the anxiety provoked by globalisation and by Europe which is expressed so forcefully in this presidential campaign? In the first instance by recognising that  this great national myth of France as egalitarian and an exception to the rule is grossly exaggerated and, secondly, because it is too often used by the dominant groups to justify our own national hypocrisy.
There is nothing new here. France was the last country to adopt a progressive income tax, and did so under the Law of 15 July 1914, voted in extremis to finance the war. In contrast, this tax had already been introduced in Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the United States and Japan, sometimes decades previously, to finance schools and public services. Until 1914, the political and economic elites in the Third Republic had stubbornly refused this type of reform declaring that France had already become egalitarian, thanks to the Revolution, and therefore had no need of an intrusive and predatory tax, more suited to the aristocratic and authoritarian societies which surrounded us.

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European parliamentary sovereignty on the shoulders of national parliamentary sovereignties

March 28, 2017

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This blog post was first published by Stephanie Hennette, Thomas Piketty, Guillaume Sacriste and Antoine Vauchez on the Verfassungsblog (an international forum on constitutional and legal issues) on March 26 2017.
We are really grateful that the Verfassungsblog has been one of the very first forums engaging the discussion on the Treaty on the democratization of the governance of the euro area (T-Dem). While the proposal has emerged in the framework of the current French presidential campaign, and is now widely debated in this context, it has been primarily thought of as a contribution to the ongoing transnational conversation over the future of the European Union. As authors of the proposal, we first wish to thank our colleague Sébastien Platon for launching an interesting discussion about the T-Dem.

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What would a democratic Euro Zone Assembly look like?

March 22, 2017

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What would the Euro Zone Assembly defended in Le Monde last week by Benoit Hamon look like? What would the political composition be and would it be in a position to « outvote austerity measures » or not? Would it allow to put in place a genuinely democratic euro-zone government?
It should be pointed out straightaway that there is no miracle Parliament or perfect Treaty and that any change in the institutions cannot on its own reconcile Europe with its citizens. The project of a ‘Treaty for the democratization of the governance of the Euro Zone’ – (T-Dem), available on line here in French (and there in English) is simply an initial basis for discussion which would need to be debated at length and improved through proposals from all.
This draft treaty has been prepared by recognized specialists in European Law – Stéphanie Hennette, professor of public law at Paris-Nanterre University and Guillaume Sacriste and Antoine Vauchez, professors and research fellows in political science at the Paris-I-Panthéon-Sorbonne University and in the CNRS (Centre National pour la Recherche Scientique). It does have the virtue of existing and demonstrating that there are solutions available to make Europe more democratic and more social, which do not involve the revision of all the existing treaties, and which are based solely on the countries which wish to move ahead.

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Public capital, private capital

March 14, 2017

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The present economic debate is over-determined by two realities which, moreover, are connected as we sometimes tend to forget. On one hand we have the steady rise in public debt and, on the other, the prosperity of privately owned wealth. The figures for the level of public debt are well known; almost everywhere the level approaches or exceeds 100% of national income (the equivalent of almost one year of gross domestic product) as compared with barely 30% in the 1970s. Far be it from me to minimise the extent of the problem: it is the highest level of public debt since World War Two and historical experience demonstrates that it is difficult to reduce this level of debt by ordinary means. This is precisely why, to get a clear idea of the issues at stake and the alternatives, it is essential to put this reality into perspective by relating it to developments in the structure of the property as a whole.
Briefly: the totality of what is owned in a country can be broken down into public capital, which is the difference between public assets (these include buildings, land, infrastructures, financial portfolios, shares in companies, etc. held by public authorities in different forms: State, municipalities, etc.) and public debt on one hand; and private capital, that is the difference between household assets and debts, on the other.

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