Challenging the Empirical Contribution of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century
Journal of Private Enterprise, Spring 2015
43 Pages Posted: 28 Dec 2014 Last revised: 13 Feb 2015
Date Written: December 26, 2014
Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century has been widely debated on theoretical grounds, yet continues to attract acclaim for its historically-infused data analysis. In this study we conduct a closer scrutiny of Piketty's empirics than has appeared thus far, focusing upon his treatment of the United States. We find evidence of pervasive errors of historical fact, opaque methodological choices, and the cherry-picking of sources to construct favorable patterns from ambiguous data. Additional evidence suggests that Piketty used a highly distortive data assumption from the Soviet Union to accentuate one of his main historical claims about global “capitalism” in the 20th century. Taken together, these problems suggest that Piketty’s highly praised and historically-driven empirical work may actually be one of the book’s greatest weaknesses.
Keywords: Thomas Piketty, Capital in the 21st Century, Inequality
JEL Classification: N01, N10, D31, D63
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation