‘Inequality is not a Problem’: How (Some) Economists Responded to Thomas Piketty

Abstract

Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century makes hardly any reference to the ethics of inequality. Surprisingly, this is an omission shared by most of his critics. In this paper I investigate the literature on which he and his reviewers might have drawn and speculate on the reasons why they did not. I outline the four ‘views of society’ and the related issues in moral philosophy that were presented by Michael Schneider in his book on the distribution of wealth. I then summarise the criticisms of Piketty made by those few reviewers who did show some interest in ethical questions and examine the slightly earlier and quite different case against reducing inequality made by one of these critics, N. Gregory Mankiw. I consider the economic, political and social costs of inequality identified in a book-length study of Piketty’s work by Steven Pressman, and conclude by reflecting on the reasons for the widespread neglect of moral philosophy by mainstream economists.

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