Two years ago this month, Thomas Piketty published his massive tome on inequality, Capital in the 21st Century. Embedded in the 696 pages of tables and analysis was a fairly simple idea: In rich countries, the distribution of wealth is more unequal than the distribution of income; wealth will continue to grow faster than income (r>g); and, therefore, a small elite will inherit the wealth of the world with little left over for the many poor.
His thesis had its share of nitpickers and weighty detractors, but it succeeded in moving the U.S. debate about the rich and poor from a discussion of income, which is annual, to a discussion of wealth, which is cumulative. This was important. Piketty wasn’t just shining a spotlight on inequality in 2014, but rather turning the lights up on the history of wealth accumulation among the richest sliver of society and showing where things might be headed. In a way, one might say it broadened the popular discussion of inequality by adding a critical dimension: time.