Thomas Piketty’s contentious thesis about ever-increasing inequality rests on the surprisingly conventional premise that aggregate wealth grows faster than overall income. Financiers and public officials have peddled virtually the same idea for decades in claiming that stocks and homes will always keep ahead of GNP and inflation.
Unfortunately, this is a fantasy.
The Dow-Jones index would have to close at about 2,000,000 on December 31, 2099, Warren Buffett has pointed out, just to match its 5.3% nominal gain of the 20th century (when it rose from 66 to 11,497).
Worse, because the belief that wealth grows faster than incomes is now so deeply embedded, it threatens our financial security, helps inflate bubbles, and by promoting a perverse redistribution of income, undermines the legitimacy of profit-seeking enterprise.
Comparing the growth rates of income and wealth is rather like comparing apples and unicorns.
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