Piketty’s Missing Rentiers by Jeffrey Frankel | Project Syndicate

From Jeffrey Frankel:

It is true that capital’s share of income interest, dividends, and capital gains rose gradually in major rich countries during the period 1975-2007, while labor’s share wages and salaries fell, a trend that would support Piketty’s hypothesis if it continued…..

But interest rates have been at all-time lows in recent years – virtually zero. And the claim that in the long run the interest rate must be substantially greater than the economic growth rate is absolutely central to Piketty’s book.

That said, Piketty’s vision is focused squarely on the truly long run….Three century-long movements constitute the essence of the book: a rise in inequality in the nineteenth century, a fall in inequality in the twentieth century, and a predicted return to historically high inequality in the twenty-first century.

To me Piketty started with a preconceived idea and selected data to support this. He seems to ignore the impact of industrialization in the 19th century and technological advances in the late 20th century as sources of wealth creation, as well as access to low-cost labor through globalization during the latter period which has eroded manufacturing jobs and real wages.

Read more at Piketty’s Missing Rentiers by Jeffrey Frankel – Project Syndicate.

Richard Epstein on Thomas Piketty | IEA

Excellent critique by Richard Epstein, Professor Emeritus of Law and Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School, of the thesis and policy recommendations of French economist Thomas Piketty from his recent book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century.

With voluntary bargaining, one can assume that both parties will benefit from the transaction: they are unlikely to enter into a bargain where there is not at least some benefit for themselves. What Epstein does not address is crony capitalism, where special interest groups (either corporations or unions) may influence government to act (or fail to act) in a way that benefits the group at the expense of the whole. Wal-mart profits, for example, may rise as a result of China’s suppression of the yuan/dollar exchange rate, but the same exchange rate may cause the loss of manufacturing jobs and exports, and depress wages.

Piketty Problems: Top 1% Shares of Income and Wealth Are Nothing Like 1917- 28 | Cato @ Liberty

From Alan Reynolds:

First of all, the Piketty and Saez estimates do not show top 1 percent income shares nearly as high as those of 1916 or 1928 once we use the same measure of total income for both prewar and postwar data.

Second, contrary to Summers, there is no data from Piketty, Saez or anyone else showing that the top 1 percent’s share of wealth “has risen sharply [if at all] over the last generation” – much less exhibited a “return to a pattern that prevailed before World War I.”

Dealing first with income, it is interesting that the first graph in Piketty’s book is about the top 10 percent – not the top 1 percent. Saez likewise writes that “the top decile income share in 2012 is equal to 50.4%, the highest ever since 1917 when the series start.” That is why President Obama said, “The top 10 percent no longer takes in one-third of our [sic] income – it now takes half.” A two-earner New York City family of six with a pretax income of only $110,000 would be in this top 10 percent, and they are certainly not taking “our” income. Regardless whether we examine the Top 10 percent or Top 1 percent, however, it is absolutely dishonest to compare the postwar estimates with prewar estimates.

The Piketty and Saez prewar estimates express top incomes as a share of Personal Income, after subtracting 20% to account for tax avoidance. Postwar estimates, by contrast, express top incomes as a share of only that fraction of income that happens to be reported on individual income tax returns – rather than being unreported, in tax-free savings or assets, or sheltered as retained corporate earnings.

Transfer payments are not counted as income in either series (as though federal cash and benefits were worthless); this distinction is inconsequential for the prewar figures but increasingly important lately. “Total income” as Piketty and Saez define it accounted for just 61.8 percent of personal income in 2012, down from 67 percent in 2000.

Read more at Piketty Problems: Top 1% Shares of Income and Wealth Are Nothing Like 1917- 28 | Cato @ Liberty.