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Thomas Piketty

A Brief History of Equality by Thomas Piketty, translated by Steven Rendall

July 2022, no. 444

Capital in the Twenty-First Century (2013), by French economist Thomas Piketty, is wholly unlike Sally Rooney’s Normal People (2018) bar one telling, if esoteric, similarity. For a period of time during the 2010s, being seen with the book mattered more than having read it. Ed Miliband, former leader of the British Labour Party, boasted that he had not progressed beyond the first chapter. WIRED reported that the five most highlighted passages on Kindle were in the book’s first twenty-six pages.

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Just over twenty years ago, an academic tome captured the West’s imagination. The End of History and the Last Man (1992) by Francis Fukuyama followed fast on the heels of the collapse of communism. Giving voice to the triumphalism and hope of the times, it became an immediate bestseller. History, Fukuyama argued, was over. This was because the West had won the long ideological battle over which configuration of political economy could best manage the twenty-first century, and beyond. Western-style free markets and liberal democracy would now spread across the world, creating stability and opportunity for all in their wake.

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