The illusion of modern-day meritocracy

That is, most observers—novelists, economists, and laypersons alike—tend to assume that labor income now plays a much bigger role than inherited wealth in shaping people’s lives, and that human capital and hard work have become the key to personal material well-being. Although this is rarely formulated explicitly, the implicit assumption seems to be that the structure of modern economic growth has led to the rise of human capital, the decline of inheritance, and the triumph of meritocracy.

This article asks a simple question: is this optimistic view of economic development justified empirically and well grounded theoretically? The simple answer is “no.” Our empirical and the- oretical findings suggest that inherited wealth will most likely play as big a role in twenty-first-century capitalism as it did in nineteenth-century capitalism—at least from an aggregate view- point.

That is Piketty in an interesting paper on the long-run evolution of inheritance in France – in the current issue of the QJE (this is gated but ungated versions are available online ).

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