Danielle Charette talks to Thomas Piketty in Tocqueville 21:
Danielle Charette: Capital and Ideology is clearly an ambitious book. It undertakes a history of what you call “inequality regimes” across many eras and in many different regions of the world. To tell the story you go well beyond traditional economics and venture into the fields of political science, history, sociology, and sometimes even literature and film. Of course, any interdisciplinary project comes with risks, since it requires commenting on fields in which you yourself may not be an expert. Can you say a bit why, as an economist, you organized Capital and Ideology in this interdisciplinary way?
Thomas Piketty: First of all, let me make clear that I don’t have a strong identity as an economist. I view my work more as the work of a social scientist, at the frontier between economic history, social history, historical economics, and political economy, or however you want to phrase it. I have written three books: Top Incomes in France in the Twentieth Century in 2001, then Capital in the Twenty-First Century in 2013, and now Capital and Ideology in 2019. Basically everything I have done over these past twenty years has been about the history of inequality. No book is exclusively about economics.
Now, that being said, you’re right that this new book is even more a book of social sciences than the previous two. My study of ideology sometimes takes the direction of anthropology or political science. I felt that this was necessary in order to better understand the evolution of inequality regimes. In the end, my main takeaway—as I say in the introduction of the book—is that the origins of inequality are more political and ideological than economic, technological, or even cultural.