Since the publication of Capital in the Twenty-First Century a few months ago, its author, French economist Thomas Piketty, has become a serious contender for the title of World's Most Talked About Economist. Piketty's book, which studies inequality on the scale of global history, "has transformed our economic discourse," according to a review from New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman.
The book itself is hardly a beach read, but the thesis is easy enough to understand: Piketty argues that capital inexorably tends to concentrate at the top, leading to ever-increasing levels of inequality. In other words, it's in the nature of the global economic order for the rich to keep getting richer. To combat that trend, Piketty suggests a the major governments of the world start taxing the rich more aggressively.
That's the message he took to the United States on Tax Day, when he discussed inequality and the possibility for a wealth tax at two Washington, D.C. events.
"I'm not proposing to increase capital taxation as a rule," said Piketty at a Tuesday morning speech hosted by the Economic Policy Institute. "What I'm advocating is to make it progressive."
In the United States, he argued, that could be done by retooling American property taxes so they take less from the poor and more from the rich. A January 2013 report from the Institute on Taxation and Economicy Policy found that American property tax law tends to be regressive and disproportionately hurt the poor and middle class because "a home represents the lion's share of their total wealth." Even renters pay more indirectly, because property taxes are passed on to them through higher rents.
The bottom 50% of Americans control only 2% of the country's wealth, said Piketty. "Even if you don't want to go all the way to socialism, maybe this can be increased to 5% or 10%," he said.
You can watch Piketty speak to the Economic Policy Institute below. Watch his discussion at the Tax Policy Center later that day here.