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Missed Opportunities and the Limitations of Social Science: A Review of Thomas Piketty’s Capital and Ideology

Gerhard Meisenberg


Published: 2020/09/01


Piketty’s new book is a sequel to his 2014 bestseller The Capital in the 21st Century. Like the earlier book, Capital and Ideology offers descriptions of historical developments that are sound, relevant and enlightening, and most of his policy proposals are commendable. Piketty recognizes that ideology is causally effective rather than mere superstructure, and that it has driven in large part the political and economic developments that he describes. However, he has his blind spots. His neglect of psychology and biology leaves his treatment of ideology shallow and unenlightening. Although he advocates for inequality-reducing policies, he presents no coherent rationale to justify such an endeavor; nor does he consider the individual differences in ability and personality that every effort at reducing inequality has to face. Piketty’s book provides a wealth of useful information, but it is also a prominent example for the inability of mainstream economics and social science to explain existing inequalities and to guide policies aimed at minimizing them.

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