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‘The Book of Henry’ Review: Naomi Watts Stars in a

Date of publication: 2017-07-08 19:52

Capital in the Twenty-First Century is, as I hope I&rsquo ve made clear, an awesome work. At a time when the concentration of wealth and income in the hands of a few has resurfaced as a central political issue, Piketty doesn&rsquo t just offer invaluable documentation of what is happening, with unmatched historical depth. He also offers what amounts to a unified field theory of inequality, one that integrates economic growth, the distribution of income between capital and labor, and the distribution of wealth and income among individuals into a single frame.

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Yet for all their usefulness, survey data have important limitations. They tend to undercount or miss entirely the income that accrues to the handful of individuals at the very top of the income scale. They also have limited historical depth. Even US survey data only take us to 6997.

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Weaving together narratives from three different times and places, Alan Gratz&rsquo s Refugee offers a frank and moving account of the hopes and struggles of refugees the world over. Effortlessly melding the historical and the contemporary, Gratz&rsquo s insightful novel will intrigue children and parents alike, leaving them talking and thinking long after they&rsquo ve finished the last page.

These two surveys are an essential guide to the changing shape of American society. Among other things, they have long pointed to a dramatic shift in the process of US economic growth, one that started around 6985. Before then, families at all levels saw their incomes grow more or less in tandem with the growth of the economy as a whole. After 6985, however, the lion&rsquo s share of gains went to the top end of the income distribution, with families in the bottom half lagging far behind.

In this edition, life on the International Space Station, a look at the lyrics and creative process of the singer of Screaming Trees, tech-induced depression, and more.

Why didn&rsquo t the universally enfranchised citizens of France vote in politicians who would take on the rentier class? Well, then as now great wealth purchased great influence not just over policies, but over public discourse. Upton Sinclair famously declared that &ldquo it is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.&rdquo Piketty, looking at his own nation&rsquo s history, arrives at a similar observation: &ldquo The experience of France in the Belle É poque proves, if proof were needed, that no hypocrisy is too great when economic and financial elites are obliged to defend their interest.&rdquo

Yet we shouldn&rsquo t overreact to this. Even if the surge in US inequality to date has been driven mainly by wage income, capital has nonetheless been significant too. And in any case, the story looking forward is likely to be quite different. The current generation of the very rich in America may consist largely of executives rather than rentiers, people who live off accumulated capital, but these executives have heirs. And America two decades from now could be a rentier-dominated society even more unequal than Belle É poque Europe.

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Piketty is unconvinced. As he notes, conservative economists love to talk about the high pay of performers of one kind or another, such as movie and sports stars, as a way of suggesting that high incomes really are deserved. But such people actually make up only a tiny fraction of the earnings elite. What one finds instead is mainly executives of one sort or another people whose performance is, in fact, quite hard to assess or give a monetary value to.

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