One of the refreshing things about Piketty’s book - at least for a humanities academic like me - is that he uses literary sources, particularly the novels of Austen and Balzac, as evidence of attitudes to wealth in the nineteenth century. His favourite episode is from Balzac’s Père Goriot, in which the young protagonist Rastignac is faced with a dilemma: marry Victorine and inherit a vast fortune, or work his way to the top? The cynical Vautrin comes to the rescue with a timely lesson, explaining to young Rastignac that even at the height of a career in law - for which he would have to fight hard and sacrifice much - he would still earn far less than he could simply by marrying into a wealthy family.
A depressing thought for anyone with the slightest attachment to meritocracy. But that sort of society is dead and gone. Isn’t it?