Denying, downplaying, debating: defensive discourses of inequality in the debate on Piketty

Andrea Grisold, Henry Silke

Publication: Scientific journalJournal articlepeer-review


A clear sign of the heightened interest in economic inequality was the surprise popularity of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the twenty-first century. The book reached the top of the bestseller lists and was described as a ‘media sensation’ and Piketty himself as a ‘rockstar economist’. Piketty’s key thesis stated that the return on investment will be higher than economic growth (r > g), meaning that inequality is destined to worsen and that the post-war Keynesian period of progress, in terms of a flattening of inequality, was in fact a small break from the norm. What he termed patrimonial capitalism would see continual increases in rates of socio-economic inequality unless drastic action is taken. In this article, Piketty’s book is treated as a paramount example of the mediation of economic inequality. The book received a generally positive response, however some writers acted defensively against the book’s main thesis, that is the secular trend of growing inequality. Exploring the press in the UK, Germany, Ireland and Austria we investigate what we term defensive discourses on inequality, meaning discourses which act to downplay, deny or conflate Piketty’s findings including discourses challenging his data and methods, discourses defending inequality as a necessity and discourses opposing regulation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)264 - 281
JournalCritical Discourse Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Austrian Classification of Fields of Science and Technology (ÖFOS)

  • 502001 Labour market policy
  • 502046 Economic policy
  • 605003 Cultural economics
  • 605004 Cultural studies
  • 508009 Media research

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