Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century has attracted worldwide attention not because he crusades against inequality — many of us do that — but because of its central thesis, based on his reading of the 19th and 20th centuries: that capital “mechanically produces arbitrary, unsustainable inequalities” inevitably leading the world to misery, violence and wars and will continue to do so in this century. So far, Piketty’s critics have offered only technical objections to his number crunching without contesting his apocalyptic political thesis, which is clearly wrong. I know this because over the last years my teams conducted research in the field exploring countries where misery, violence and wars are rampant in the 21st century. What we discovered was that most people actually want more rather than less capital, and they want their capital to be real and not fictitious.
Like many Western academics on a tight budget when faced with poor and nonsensical statistics outside Western nations, Piketty takes European indicators and extrapolates them on to such countries to draw global conclusions. This ignores the fact that 90 percent of the world population lives in developing countries and former Soviet states, whose inhabitants produce and hold their capital in the informal sector, that is to say, outside of official statistics.