Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1299, (9 - 15 June 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Piketty in Cairo

Al-Ahram Weekly

FRENCH economist Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a book which has sold 2.5 million copies worldwide, was in Cairo this week for the launch of the Arabic translation of his book. The book, translated by prominent economic journalists Wael Gamal and Salma Hussein, presents compelling arguments on inequality and the distribution of wealth.

During his visit, Piketty addressed full auditoriums at Cairo University’s Faculty of Economic and Political Studies and the American University in Cairo. He told the audience that the Middle East region was not present in the book as it should be, mainly because of the shortage of data, particularly income tax data. He said that for many parts of the world, the Middle East included, he had not been able to access income tax data when writing the book. “Income tax data, even if it is not perfect, is better than household surveys,” he said.

Piketty argued that even if there was not much reliable information about inequality in the Middle East, there was huge inequality between Middle Eastern countries because of oil wealth. To cite an example, he pointed out that investment in education in Egypt was one hundred times smaller than the oil revenues of Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. He said that the Middle East was the most unequal region in the world by far and called for greater transparency on income and wealth in the region and for progressive taxation to fight corruption and limit the concentration of power.

Piketty does not call for complete economic equality in his book, arguing that “we need some level of inequality to provide incentives.” But he pointed out that the risk of inequality was the rise of nationalism and that if inequality was not resolved there would always be people to exploit it, potentially creating dangerous tensions. Through historical data he shows in his book that growth was not affected when inequality was reduced in various parts of the world following 20th-century shocks such as World War II, because these shocks increased mobility. His data also shows that inequality has been on the rise worldwide over recent years.

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