Institutions and Material Conditions: The Problem of History in Piketty's Capital and Ideology
In his celebrated 2013 volume, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty set out a detailed empirical account of the accelerated growth in inequality within and between societies around the globe, noting that over the past two centuries increases in wealth have increasingly made their way into the pockets of fewer and fewer people. His latest book returns to the question of inequality, but the focus is on what he sees as its ideological origins rather than its empirical manifestations. Unlike the data-driven argument set out in the earlier book, Capital and Ideology is a more discursive tour of global history going back to the Middle Ages. There are still data, mainly used to demonstrate the existence of inequality over the centuries, but the bulk of the book—and it is a bulky book—is devoted to various forms of social organization and the evolution of the ideologies that underpinned them. At the heart of this vast tome is the notion that ideas and ideologies, especially those surrounding property, have long been used to justify and perpetuate inequality, and that new ways of thinking will be required if we are to reinvent our societies as truly egalitarian ones.
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