Mr. Piketty’s is based on data. He just has much more: centuries’ worth, from dozens of countries. He distills from them a simple historical regularity. The rate of return to capital — understood broadly to include machinery, land, financial instruments, housing and everything else — is usually higher than economic growth.Is there a solution?
This was particularly true before the Industrial Revolution, when economies didn’t really grow, but it prevailed even after economic growth took off in the 19th century.
This means that the income from wealth usually grows faster than wages. As returns from capital are reinvested, inherited wealth will grow faster than the economy, concentrating more and more into the hands of few. This will go on until capital owners decide to consume most of their income and stop reinvesting as much.
Is there a politically feasible antidote? Professor Piketty notes that the standard recipe — education for all — is no match against the powerful forces driving inherited wealth ever higher.
Taxes are, of course, the most feasible counterweight. Progressive wealth taxes could reduce the after-tax return to capital so that it equaled the rate of economic growth.