Markets, Productivity, and Happiness in a Historical Perspective

Thomas Piketty’s Circle and the School of Inequality

Walraevens Benoît, Normandie Univ, UNICAEN, CNRS, CREM, 14000 Caen, France

For a number of reasons, that I will touch on briefly, the issue of (economic) inequality has long been marginalized in economics. This is no longer the case. The huge and worldwide success of Thomas Piketty’s works, and especially of his Capital in the 21st Century, has played a key role in putting the topic of (rising) inequalities of revenue and wealth at the forefront of economic discourse and public debate. But Piketty’s works have both generated and benefitted from the work of an international network of scholars on economic and social inequality. So, the aim of this paper is to identify and characterize what looks like a new, emerging, and growing school of thought, that we will call “the school of inequality”, and whose leader would be Thomas Piketty. First of all, I will identify the different members of the school and their roles: the precursor (Atkinson), the leader (Piketty), the “close circle” (Saez, Landais, Zucman, Chancel, Alvaredo, Cage, Fremeaux, Gethin and Martinez-Toledano, Stantcheva?) and the “wider circle” (the collaborators and contributors of the international network of the Word Inequality Lab). I will study their links through an analysis of co-authorship, cross-referencing, and academic links. Then, I will highlight the characteristics of this school: the unity of topic (socio-economic inequality in its various forms: inequalities of revenue and wealth, tax avoidance, inheritance, voting and democracy, history of taxes, environmental inequality), methodology (collecting data on the history of inequality of revenue and wealth, distributional national accounts), explanation of rising inequality (ideological and political causes are underlined), and policy proposals (the primary role of taxation for reducing inequality and achieve a more equitable growth). The “school of inequality” also provides a specific view of economics, presenting economic science as a deeply political, historical, and social science aimed at enlightening and empowering citizens to make their own choices about taxation and redistribution, with the use of specific tools such as fiscal simulators.


Keywords: Piketty; school of thought; inequality; taxation; redistribution