cover image A Brief History of Equality

A Brief History of Equality

Thomas Piketty, trans. from the French by Steven Rendall. Belknap, $27.95 (288p

“The advance toward equality is a battle that began long ago and needs only to be continued in the twenty-first century,” according to this optimistic treatise from economist Piketty (Capital and Ideology). Contending that inequality is a human construct shaped by ideology, politics, and institutions and not a by-product of natural hierarchies, Piketty details how two world wars and the Great Depression produced a “Great Redistribution” of wealth through progressive taxation and the creation of the welfare state. Tax reforms in the 1980s sparked a rise in income inequality, but Piketty believes that a “decentralized, self-managing, democratic socialism based on the continual circulation of power and property” can reverse the trend and compete more effectively than traditional free-market capitalism against China, where the state controls 30% of public capital. He calls for “democratically neutral” university admissions criteria based on “students’ wishes, their grades, and their social origins” and quotas for the advancement of women in government and business. Piketty also envisions “transnational assemblies” that would replace the UN and administer global labor laws and common taxes on income and inheritance. Marked by Piketty’s trademark lucidity, impressive multidisciplinary scholarship, and provocative progressivism, this is a vital introduction to his ideas. (Apr.)