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Piketty on Growth and Distribution


  • Joan R. Rovira

    () (Barcelona Chamber of Commerce)


In his book Capital in the Twenty-First CenturyThomas Piketty combines two distinct theories to explain the stylized facts of growth and distribution in capitalist economies. The first is an analysis of the concentration of inherited wealth driven by the difference between the rate of return on capital and the rate of growth of national income. The second is essentially the neoclassical growth model with a constant (net) saving rate and an elasticity of substitution between capital and labour greater than one. I argue that for these two theories to be mutually consistent, in a long-run framework in which financial wealth converges in value with non-financial capital, the interdependence between the rates of growth and return at the aggregate level must be recognized. Since in Capital the rates of growth and return are assumed to be independently given, I show that Piketty has built a fundamentally over-determined, inconsistent analysis of growth and distribution. I also show that Piketty’s approach diverges in fundamental ways from classical, neoclassical and post-Keynesian models of growth and distribution, and in particular from the way they deal with the rates of growth and return in balanced conditions.

Suggested Citation

  • Joan R. Rovira, 2015. "Piketty on Growth and Distribution," Hacienda Pública Española, IEF, vol. 214(3), pages 91-114, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:hpe:journl:y:2015:v:214:i:3:p:91-114

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Thomas Piketty & Gabriel Zucman, 2014. "Capital is Back: Wealth-Income Ratios in Rich Countries 1700–2010," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 129(3), pages 1255-1310.
    2. Robert M. Solow, 1956. "A Contribution to the Theory of Economic Growth," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, Oxford University Press, vol. 70(1), pages 65-94.
    3. Duncan K. Foley & Thomas R. Michl, 2010. "The Classical Theory of Growth and Distribution," Chapters,in: Handbook of Alternative Theories of Economic Growth, chapter 2 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    4. Branko Milanovic, 2014. "The Return of "Patrimonial Capitalism": A Review of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 52(2), pages 519-534, June.
    5. J. v. Neumann, 1945. "A Model of General Economic Equilibrium," Review of Economic Studies, Oxford University Press, vol. 13(1), pages 1-9.
    6. Myron J. Gordon & Eli Shapiro, 1956. "Capital Equipment Analysis: The Required Rate of Profit," Management Science, INFORMS, vol. 3(1), pages 102-110, October.
    7. Milanovic, Branko, 2013. "The return of “patrimonial capitalism”: review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st century," MPRA Paper 52384, University Library of Munich, Germany.
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    More about this item


    income and wealth distribution; economic growth; capitalism;

    JEL classification:

    • D31 - Microeconomics - - Distribution - - - Personal Income and Wealth Distribution
    • O41 - Economic Development, Innovation, Technological Change, and Growth - - Economic Growth and Aggregate Productivity - - - One, Two, and Multisector Growth Models
    • P10 - Economic Systems - - Capitalist Systems - - - General


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