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Inequality and the Fate of Capitalism

by Scott Winship

An impressive work of scholarship invokes a dubious idea from Marx

Thomas Piketty topped the charts in America just shy of 150 years from the publication of volume 1 of Das Kapital.

Karl Marx would have scoffed at the possibility that by the turn of the 21st-century capitalism would produce a society in which books and products of every variety would be available to people of any income almost instantaneously. He predicted that wealth would accumulate and accrue to a shrinking number of people over time, to the point where inequality would destroy capitalism. Now comes Piketty, in a weighty tome titled to evoke Kapital, to warn that the “Marxist principle of infinite accumulation” may not have been completely wrong after all. Levels of wealth concentration today and in the future will not lead to socialism. But they could nevertheless become “socially destabilizing,” he argues, as capitalism in the context of slow growth could lead the wealthy to “ultimately devour all of national income.”

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