Friday, October 3, 2014

Economist Thomas Piketty, Best-Selling Author of Capital in the 21st Century, Speaks at UMass Amherst

Yesterday, Professor Thomas Piketty, the author of the controversial best-seller, Capital in the Twenty-First Century,  spoke at UMass Amherst to an audience of thousands at the Student Union Ballroom.
He had flown in from Paris to Boston Logan, and had been driven to Amherst by the Chair of the Economics Department, Professor Michael Ash, who introduced him. Our new Provost, Katherine Newman, gave some welcoming remarks, as did Ash.

Piketty had been invited to deliver the Gamble Lecture. According to the announcement: His best-selling book emphasizes the themes of his work on wealth concentrations and distribution over the past 250 years. The book argues that the rate of capital return in developed countries is persistently greater than the rate of economic growth, and that this will cause wealth inequality to increase in the future. To address this problem, he proposes redistribution through a global tax on wealth.

Piketty spoke to an audience of students, faculty, staff, members of the community, and I even saw one of my Operations Management alums there, who drove up from the Hartford area. It was nice to see several of my colleagues from the Isenberg School of management there.

I appreciated his sense of humor - Piketty said that he was speaking French and, indeed, his English sounded French. He is an empirical economist and noted that he is better at analyzing the past than the future. He considers his book, which was published by Harvard University Press,  to be a "historical narrative" and a "collective data collection" project that is continuing and to which data from more countries is being added. He emphasized that the data and graphs are posted online for anyone to access. He obtains his income data from income tax data. One of his major queries was to determine as to why so much wealth is now concentrated at the top.

The Economist provided a summary of the 700 page book in four paragraphs. The book was published in French one year ago and in English last March and has taken the world by storm. It was terrific to be able to see him at UMass Amherst and, as the Provost noted,  our Economics Department is a heterodox one so a great host for Piketty. Piketty stated that he believes in Economics for Society.

I hope that you enjoy the photos below that I took at Piketty's presentation.

I also found online a presentation that he gave last March, which seems as though it is essentially the same as the one he gave yesterday, which can be accessed here.

This has been quite the intellectual week at UMass Amherst, with the Nobel laureate, Dr. Sheldon Glashow, speaking the day before!   One of the best aspects of being in academia is the knowledge exchange through wonderful speakers!